Posted by: Ethan Johnson | December 15, 2010

espnW: There Go the Goalposts

I awoke to the following sentence via Wendy Parker:

Sports business ace Kristi Dosh talks to espnW vice president Laura Gentile on the Forbes SportsMoney blog in response to some of the rather heated reaction to last week’s site launch, and says we’re missing the point entirely.

Wait for it…

For those wishing for more women’s sports coverage on this platform, it’s not going to happen. At first I thought it was a missed opportunity by espnW, but that’s really never been a major objective.

It seems like only days ago that I had this to say about espnW’s soft launch:

What bothers me about espnW, knowing full well that any criticism that I might offer may be meet dismissively with assurances that the blog is still in development, is that it’s not shining a light on women’s sports. It’s not shining a light on women in sports. It’s a repackaging of ESPN.com written solely by women.

The aforementioned Kristi Dosh distills espnW’s target audience like so:

These women—the ones who aren’t part of ESPN’s existing 26% female audience—deserve to be engaged. They want to be fans, but are a little shy about it. They don’t want to look stupid. They are lost in the world of sports and no one is catering to their needs.

I wondered how and if espnW is bridging this gap. I did my level best to approach this exercise as someone who knows next to nothing about sports. So how about them Tennessee Volunteers last night?

espnW says,

It wasn’t a good night for to be in Volunteer orange as unranked Oakland pulled the upset against the No. 7 men’s squad in an 89-82 win. The Knoxville crowd was on its feet for a back-and-forth game with three lead changes and five ties in the first half. Oakland ran away with the game with a 13-0 run, fueled by free throws, to take an 81-76 lead, and it never looked back. A 3-pointer by Larry Wright with 38 seconds left closed the coffin, bringing Tennessee’s seven-game win streak to an end.

espn.com says,

Why the scare quotes? Because this game — a gutty 89-82 Oakland win at No. 7 Tennessee — was not, despite all appearances to the contrary, all that shocking.

Upset? Of course. Miracle in Knoxville? Not exactly.

Sure, Tennessee has had one of the most impressive starts in the country. Sure, the Volunteers, having just rolled to a win at Pittsburgh, entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in RPI. Sure, there is a Lake St. Clair-sized gulf between each school’s respective athletics budget expenditures. No matter. Oakland is just plain tough.

Ummm, and this is true, I have no idea what RPI means. Comparing the two articles (such as they are) about the same game, I did find the ESPN article to be more suited to someone who is immersed in the particular sport, in this case men’s college basketball. I credit espnW’s synopsis with being crisp and to the point, without tossing off acronyms and whatnot with the expectation that the reader will magically know that they mean.

But, once again I am wondering – having seen the goal posts move yet again for this fledgling initiative – why ESPN can’t put a greater emphasis on improving their existing content rather than thin-slicing a specific demographic.

Maybe espnW is serving a need that I can’t fully decipher. At present, however, I’m feeling like I have been sold a bill of goods. If ESPN won’t bolster their women’s sports coverage via espnW, how will they do it?

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