ESPN’s coverage of sports is dominated by male sports. But a study released this summer, co-authored by a sociologist at USC, has prompted ESPN to start moving toward a new sports channel devoted to women’s sports:
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.
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.
Messner is not necessarily thrilled with this outcome as she thinks that it might mean that ESPN will never cover women’s sports on its main networks.
What kind of ratings would a channel like this receive? Even though women make a good percentage of fans for the major sports (“44 perfect for the NFL fans, 36 percent for the NBA and 45 percent for the MLB”), women’s sports have had difficulty drawing substantial television ratings. The article suggests the channel is intended to cultivate a broader female sports audience for the future.