The coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media is about to get a huge boost, thanks to USC professor of sociology and gender studies Michael Messner.
In June, Messner co-authored a study for the Center for Feminist Research at USC that revealed how media giants, especially ESPN, were starving women’s sports coverage. As a result, ESPN is launching a brand-new channel, called espnW, that is marketed specifically toward women. The channel will launch online this fall, with the possibility of becoming a television channel in the spring.
“They’ve made the commitment,” former professional tennis star Billie Jean King told The New York Times. “I don’t think there’s ever been this much planning, research and commitment before.”
Messner’s study found that ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter devoted only 1.4 percent of its coverage to women’s sports last year, as opposed to 2.1 percent in 2004. It also found 96.3 percent of the lead stories on SportsCenter and on KNBC’s, KCBS’ and KABC’s sports news segments came from men’s sports.
Though adding espnW seems like a step in the right direction, Messner isn’t so sure.
“Yes, it’s going to give women’s sports fans a place to go,” he told The New York Times. “But it might ultimately ghettoize women’s sports and kind of take ESPN off the hook in terms of actually covering them on its main broadcast.”
Messner’s argument is met with mixed reaction in the female community. Although espnW will initially start out with a blog, online streaming video content and even a platform for mobile phones, it puts women on a different level, and some women see it as condescending.
“For those of us that have worked really hard to keep up with the boys, that’s kind of tough to hear,” said Julie DiCaro, the author of a Cubs fan blog, A League of Her Own, to The New York Times. “It seems like this is the broadcasting equivalent of making something pink and putting sparkles on it.”
The vice president of espnW, Laura Gentile, said the logo will not have pink in it and will cover mainstream sports as well as women’s sports. According to research done by each separate league, women make up a vast number of professional sports fans: 44 perfect for the NFL fans, 36 percent for the NBA and 45 percent for the MLB.
EspnW will cater to this population as well, and large companies see promise in the network — as Gatorade and Nike are founding sponsors. Gentile hopes that this network can become a staple in young women’s lives.
“The idea is potentially cultivating this fan base of women’s sports fans, where 10 years from now, girls are growing up truly feeling like ESPN is made for them and ESPN is truly their brand,” she told The New York Times.
If that is the case, Messner and USC have something to be proud of.