Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Further thoughts on female athletes and espnW

Been reading more about the "espnW" brand effort this week; Blogs With Balls profiled the effort quite well.

Marketing to today's women athletes is a complex undertaking. espnW seeks to connect with female athletes 18-40s - this could be anyone from the professionally competitive snowboarder who's barely out of high school, up to coaches and older athletes. How is it possible to meet all the needs of such a wide demographic?

The interesting thing is that espnW is specifically being noted as a "brand" effort, not simply a "marketing" effort. What's the difference, you might ask?

To boil marketing parlance down to the basics, "branding" is the perception that you have when you think about a specific brand: what that brand makes you feel, your expectations, and what you think about. The easiest product to think about in terms of branding is cars: what comes to mind when you hear names like Mercedes, Ferrari, Chevy, Scion? Each company makes its own niche, and fills it with a reputation and personality, if you will, to represent their brand. If you want a car that you take backroad camping, for example, you're going to think "Jeep", not "Lexus". Companies use carefully targeted marketing to appeal to the demographic that they want to reach, and spread that image, that appeal.

Boiling the essence of a sports network down to a female-friendly brand is going to be an interesting work in progress. Women ask why there needs to even be a separate place for women to go looking for more of the content they would be interested in, especially if they're among the part of the demographic that is satisfied with what they get from ESPN or other existing sports networks.  Women already make up a percentage of ESPN and other sports networks' target audience, but there's plenty more that can be done for women when it comes to sports, and not simply just marketing the existing product to suit what women like to see. 

Empowering women when it comes to sports is important for many reasons, and not only so it can expand a network's offerings or improve bottom lines. Done well and done positively, any improved coverage of female sports is a win-win situation. It helps female athletes get the recognition they're deserving. It gives young girls role models to look up to. And perhaps most importantly, it shows that there are places in sports for women where they are judged not on how they look, but on what they achieve.

Female athletes are exciting. Mia Hamm, Michelle Wei, Danica Patrick, Michelle Kwan, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Amanda Beard, Candice Parker, Dara Torres, Lindsay Vonn are among the leaders in the past several years across a variety of sports, and thankfully, due to expanded coverage of female sports - particularly during the Olympics - their names are more easily called to mind.

Thirty or forty years ago, female athletes might have been considered masculine, or butch. Today, female athletes are viewed as strong, powerful, exciting - and dare we say it - feminine and sexy. A number of top female athletes have even performed double duty as models.

Previously, I had written about the fact there's double standards when it comes to athletes. If you doubt it, think about the 2010 Canadian gold-medal winning female ice hockey team: when pictures and videos surfaced of the ladies drinking beer, smoking cigars and enjoying their victory on center ice in semi-privacy after the crowds had left the arena led to people questioning if this "public" celebrating might be harmful to their image as athletes.

Seriously, people - these women had just won the gold medal for their sport. When it comes to women's sports, a gold medal at the Olympics is about as good as it gets, and you only have a shot at winning it once every 4 years. Wouldn't you  be celebrating, too? From my perspective - as a woman, and a female athlete - I saw nothing wrong with their celebrations. I was more appalled that anybody would want to criticize these women for reveling in the joy of the moment.

Four months later, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and there has been extensive footage of the men - and their families - wildly celebrating, not only in the locker room, but all over the ice - and all over the city of Chicago - with plenty of champagne, beer, and yes, cigars. There were even plenty of jokes about having to wring certain players out before training camp, but celebrations for men's sports is all taken in stride with a kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge boys-will-be-boys attitude. Nobody would ever think of questioning the men so publicly celebrating their victory - even though they were doing the same thing the women's team did, just in a more public setting.

Hopefully, we can begin to eliminate, or at the very least improve upon these double standards, and by celebrating and showcasing more women being equals on the athletic stage, lead to even greater recognition and respect for women - not just athletes, but all women.



  1. What are you thoughts on the recent firing of Comcast Chicago Sports Network reporter/producer, Jen Patterson after she was spotted around town being "lovey dovey" with Hawks player, Nick Boynton? Is there a double standard from that view as well? Keep in mind that Hawks owner, Rocky Wirtz, is part owner of CCSN and its rumored that was the reason she got canned---a workplace romance and one where reporting could get skewed.

  2. Workplace romances are always risky. It's the whole idea of "If one of the parties gets spurned, how does it affect the workplace?"

    I don't know the full details surrounding this story. But it's my understanding that Comcast owns a certain % of the Blackhawks, and since Patterson is a sports reporter, it would be considered a conflict of interest. Many companies have very cut-and-dry rules about interoffice romances, so this likely fell into that category.

    If it comes down to the performance of the sports team vs the reporter, it doesn't take much stretch to figure out which one is the more expendable. This would be true even if the athlete was female and the reporter were male.

    The media struggles enough as it is to come across as impartial. Boynton is 3rd-stringer so it's not surprising this sort of flew under the radar. If it was Toews or Kane, this would've been front-page news.


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