Monday, December 27, 2010

Gender equity in sports thanks to Title 9 has given women much deserved opportunities in athletics.  But news that ESPN has decided to launch a website directed at women sports is something of an eyebrow raiser.  But it does raise the chicken or egg argument.  If the sports leader builds it, will they come?

I decided to write about this because I've been chuckling about all the grousing about the supposed lack of coverage of UConn's remarkable run of 89 consecutive wins by its female basketball team.  Trust me folks, the Huskies' winning streak has received far more coverage than UCLA's 88 game run by its men back in the 1970's.  I repeat, UConn has gotten much more exposure than UCLA.

Remember, ESPN didn't exist back in 1974 when Notre Dame ended the Bruins' streak.  There was no FOX sports, no CNN, UCLA got most of its due from Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, both print publications.  UConn has gotten a ton more coverage than UCLA did simply by the fact that a lot that the media landscape has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years.

But I'm not sure that the appetite for sports coverage of women has.  Granted, more women than ever participate in sports.  It's up almost 500 percent in the last 40 years according to a publication I read.  But participation doesn't equate to consumption of the product in my view.

Women have come a long way in terms of their athletic ability.  The college game is fundamentally sound at the top levels, but only among the very best teams. It's a game played below the rim.  equate with consumption of women targeted sports coverage. UConn's women are at best like watching a very good high school boys basketball team.  Sorry, but it's true.  You really have to be a connoisseur to appreciate women's basketball.

Before you rag on me I enjoy watching women compete in track and field just as much as I enjoy watching men.  Women running a sub 4:00 1500 meters is just as exciting to me as watching men run the same race under 3:30.  Basketball is different than just running, jumping, or throwing a shot, discus or javelin.  The athleticism exhibited by men on a basketball court is often jaw dropping.  You rarely go oh my when watching the same game played by women. 

I guess the point of all this is that a website targeting women athletics or even a magazine like the failed Sports Illustrated for Women seems like a tough nut to crack.  The financial scale of the Internet leads me to believe that ESPN can make it work.  But it would shock me if it became any kind of massive financial success.  The WNBA is a ratings disaster for the world wide leader.  But then again, who would have thought that a website like Dyestat, which targeted high school track and field, a truly small audience, could end up being attractive to an industry leader like ESPN.  But then again, ESPN has messed that up too.

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