Click here to listen to some comments I made on the Minneapolis Lingerie Football League expansion team. I’ll write more later to refute the LFL founder Mitchell Mortaza’s statements on marketing women’s sports.
Here is what I would of liked to have said on camera in response to Mortaza.
1. He claims “there is a reason why women’s sport has struggled…is you need some kind of marketing hook. How about marketing females as serious athletes, show their athleticism, give them equal quality and quantity of media coverage, and stop selling them as sex objects so that people will take them seriously as ATHLETES, rather than an object of consumption for the male fan? Mortaza, have you ever considered that because the LFL exists that it undermines the athletic achievements of real female athletes?
2. To my knowledge there are not “various women’s soccer leagues that have folded”, there is only one–the Women’s United Soccer Association. The Women’s Professional Soccer league is currently seven teams strong
3. Mortaza claims the WNBA can’t be marketed because “no one can dunk a basketball in the WNBA”….SEE PICTURE.
4. Mortaza claims, “you can’t market a 330 lb. woman as well as you can a model”. What Mortaza is marketing is not sport, it is sex and sex appeal. What he doesn’t realize is that when men like him “market” models and package them as athletes, it only reinforces that only certain types of women and certain types of bodies are desirable and marketable, which perpetuates unrealistic norms of beauty and gender. I would also argue with him, that he is making a big assumption. How do we know you can’t market a 330 lb professional female football player….has anyone tried???… I mean seriously tried to market and promote a real women’s football league like the IWFL or the WFA? What if the same amount of coverage, money, sponsorship, and structural support the NFL enjoys, were given to the WFA?
I would love to hear how you would respond to Mortaza’s statements.
What troubles me is that while the LFL is expanding, REAL women’s professional teams and athletes are struggling. The LFL is adding up to five additional teams–which would bring the league to 15 teams. The WNBA has 10 teams. The WPS has 7 teams. Let me be clear, the LFL is not sport. The LFL is about sex, and selling sex. The target consumer of the LFL is not female sport fans, or serious fans of women’s sport. The LFL target market is the coveted 18-35 year old male fan. The LFL is selling sex, not sport.As I’ve written before, sex sells sex.Sex does not sell women’s sport.
There is one small silver lining this for me. The good news about having an LFL franchise in Mpls is that I can finally do some research around the league–who attends, why do they attend, who tries out and plays in the LFL, what is the motive for playing and attending, what is the fan perception of the league, and so much more! Maybe I’ll submit my suggestion for the MSP team name….that way I can win lifetime season tickets so I can conduct my research with lower cost.
I know I write quite a bit about how female athletes are sexualized in the media, and sport media in particular. Usually my posts are met with the standard “athletic bodies are sexy, get over it you stuffy academic”…but the most recent video of Serena Williams in an ad for the TopSpin 2k video game, is just too blatant to ignore. I’m just not sure how one could argue this is not sexualization and soft core porn, but I’m open to hearing other points of view.
Even if Serena herself at the end of the video says it is “just fantasy”, it doesn’t erase the fact this has very little to do with the fact she is one of the best female tennis players in the world.
I love March Madness, but I do not love this. It isn’t cute or clever, it is just plain irritating and insulting. It makes it seem as if females can’t be serious individuals OR sport fans, or possess knowledge of basketball. If you’d like to fill out real bracket, do so here for the men and here for the women.
I want to clarify a few points. I stated that I wanted mostly females journalists, bloggers, videographers and those who do content to be female on the espnW website. I did not say only females, I said a majority. Here is why: We lack females in positions of power in all roles in sport. What better way to provide visible role models for girls and other females who aspire to a similar career pathway in sport (whether it be athlete, journalist, coach, subject matter expert, editor, photographer) that to feature them on espnW! Research indicates girls are desperate for female role models and identify with same-sex role models more effectively (click here for some good information on how girls construct leadership). If you want to see the research on the lack of females in positions of power in sport click here , here, or here.
For those who respond to the birth of espnW by commenting “Zzzzzzzzzzzz”—don’t worry, espnW isn’t for you!! You are not the target market. Fans of men’s sport have a place to go for high quality, up to date sport news…it is called ESPN.com, all the ESPN TV channels and ESPN The Magazine. Fans (both male and female fans alike) of women’s sport and female athletes have not had a similar outlet to consume their sports and athletes they love and desperately want to follow, and now I hope we will. For fans of men’s sport and male athletes: How would you feel is all the products associated with ESPN, which have largely covered men’s sports, disappeared tomorrow? What would you do? Well imagine that scenario and you will have an approximation of how fans of women’s sport have historically felt.
Stay tuned, the battle and debate over the contested terrain of sport media and females getting a decent share is just beginning.
For those who think espnW will be a bore, you don’t have to visit espnW…but you might want to when you have a daughter.
Having returned from the espnW retreat at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA I have been thinking about many things. If you don’t know, ESPN is expanding its brand to include espnW “to serve, inform and inspire the female athlete and fan.” The digital launch will occur March 2011 and the target audience of espnW is women 18+. The retreat brought together key stakeholders in women’s sport, and it was quite a group! I felt very fortunate to be a part of the event, as it was a first-class endeavor from start to finish. You can see pictures on the espnW Facebook page. Laura Gentile, Vice President of espnW, has put together a dedicated team. Her opening night remarks can be found here, that will tell you a bit more about espnW since there is quite a bit of misinformation swirling out in cyberspace.
Legend Billie Jean King spoke both at the opening ceremonies and during a breakfast conversation with Julie Foudy and Sage Steele. She was clearly fired-up about the endless potential of espnW. During her remarks she said, “its OK to want something…don’t settle for the crumbs, want the whole cake!” Well, I want the whole cake when it comes to espnW! At one of the sessions we were asked, “What would espnW.com look like to you?” I’ve been thinking about this ever since.
I think the answers would vary because not all women are the same, but for me here is what the whole cake looks like. I want to see only information, opinions, stats, blogs, videos, commentary, and expertise about women’s sport and female athletes–Period. I also want most of the information and content on the site to be developed, written and delivered by females. There should be at least (well really I want more!) as many females and females in positions of power on espnW, as I see males and male athletes on ESPN.
I’m also clear about what I don’t want to see on espnW: dumbed-down sport, a version of Self Magazine + Sport, male sports, or male athletes. If I want information about men’s sport I already know where I can go to get that information. If I want information about nutrition, motherhood, fitness, and well-being, I already know where I can go to get that information. Give me aggregated, high quality, legitimate, serious information ABOUT WOMEN’S SPORT AND FEMALE ATHLETES, I don’t know where to find this information (unless I visit 20 different websites).
espnW is uniquely positioned to give female fans and athletes, and post Title IX females in general, what we’ve been so desperate for–a legitimate place to read about women’s sports and female athletes. According to researchers, female athletes only get 1.6% of all sports coverage on major networks, a figure that has declined from 6.3% since 2004. Data over the last 25 years shows female athletes only get 6-8% of coverage for sport print media. Research on the coverage of female athletes and social media lags behind, but based on the data it runs the gamut from unfiltered sexism to empowerment.
espnW has done consumer insight and market analysis research and their blue chip take home is that females are a different breed of sport fans. Women are busy, multidimensional, and primarily are still responsible for domestic and childcare duties. Many women have less time for sport consumption than their male counterparts, and when they do, the consumption probably looks different. I don’t disagree with this assessment but the few studies which have sampled female fans find their motive to attend sporting events is nearly identical to male sport fans—they like sports! espnW kept stressing females and female sport fans specifically want to be (inter)connected, and experience a community more than do male fans. A colleague of mine once said, “Male sport fans attend to be seen, while female sport fans go to see others.” This wisdom may translate to social media, but the challenge of how that looks digitally is now in the hands of espnW, because only the ESPN brand is big enough and has sufficient resources to actually do this right. That is a BIG responsibility because it will meet resistance, from both males and females (as Megan Hueter of Women Talk Sports pointed out in her blog).
Given the record numbers of females participating in sport, it hasn’t translated into record numbers of females as sport fans (although the data show that trend is on the rise). I disagree with the espnW promo literature that states “once an athlete, always a fan” because if that were the case we would have a lot more female sport fans of both men’s and women’s sports.
I would love to see research on the pathway(s) for females to become sport fans. How do we get female sport fans to consume the sports they once played? That pathway and socialization process is clearly in place for males. I ask a similar question when I ask, “How do we get former female athletes to coach the sports they once played?” The answer is complicated and one I’m still trying to figure out, but I think some of the strategies to increase the number of female coaches translate–ask and invite female to be fans, promote early involvement/hook ’em early, reduce the time commitment it takes to consume sport, and make it easy. I heard echoes of these themes in how the espnW digital presence will be constructed. I also think there would many MORE female fans if we could see legitimate coverage of women’s sport and female athletes….(enter espnW).
However, I fear than until we change the current structure of gender roles in the family and workplace, it will continue to be difficult for some (perhaps the majority of) women to be the kind of sport fans, consumers, coaches, and administrators they desire to be.
I am wishing espnW and their brand team the best, a lot is riding on its success.
If you follow this blog you might of known I went to Chicago last weekend to attend theBlog With Balls 3.0 (BWB) Conference, and was invited to be part of the “You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right…to Blog?: A Legal and Ethical Primer to Sports Media in 2010” panel. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly was feeling like the odd girl out (literally One Sport Voice), as I explained it to the audience: I represented a ‘Trifecta of Tokenism’ as 1) one of the few females in attendance (~15 of 150 attendees were female), 2) an academic who studies and critiques sport media, and 3) someone who writes and advocates for women’s sport. I’d add one more…I don’t blog to make money, my blog is an offshoot of my teaching, research and outreach. After this weekend where I learned that some blogs get +3 million unique visitors a month, I’m fairly certain I’ll never make money from my One Sport Voice blog.
As my fellow panelists and I were attempting to discuss various legal and ethical issues in an engaging way, the best part of the panel is that we did not agree on anything. You can see a video of most of the panel here courtesy of Justin.tv I think there are not enough instances where people can disagree publicly and have an engaged discussion-I’ve written about this in a previous blog. Our panel I think accomplished this task. I enjoyed meeting my fellow panelists and some have posted their thoughts of their experiences at BWB 3.0 including Alana G of Yardbarker and Josh Zerkle of PUNTE. I learned a great deal from them and others in attendance.
Whether you thought the panel was great or stunk (follow the Twitter hash tag #bwb3 to tweets about conference and our panel), there were some big picture BWB take-aways for me.
1. Most people (including mainstream sport bloggers) do not care about women’s sport, female athletes, gender issues or the sexualization of women in general. I did not hear ONE mention or discussion of female athletes or women’s sport in the entire conference. When females were mentioned it was as a) sexual objects of professional male athletes or, b) “mommy bloggers”. It seemed the assumption at BWB was that if women blog, they blog about mom stuff but if you are a male blogger you blog about sports. I did not hear anyone refer to themselves or other male bloggers in attendance as “daddy bloggers”. This may seem trivial, but the language used to describe “mommy” bloggers marginalizes them and makes it seems as if what they write about isn’t valued or important. I could get into a long blog about how the opinions and domestic work of mothers is under valued in society but I won’t. It also erases the fact women do blog about men’s sport (in fact most of the women at BWB wrote exclusively about men’s sport) and that men do blog about women’s sport (although I didn’t meet any of them at BWB).
Call to action: Those who blog about women’s sport and those women who call themselves sport bloggers, get yourself to the next Blogs With Balls conference.
2. I mentioned before my fellow panelists did not agree on much, which was both good and bad. As I listened to the opinions and thoughts of my fellow panelists discuss what kind of (ethical) decision making they engage in while deciding to post/not post or break a story, one theme was “everyone makes his/her own choices and decisions” which reflects moral relativism. Those who adopt a moral relativistic perspective think there are fundamental and irreconcilable disagreements about right and wrong and may believe that respect for others means that we must tolerate value differences. This is obviously problematic and leads to many of the ethical issues which arise in the blogosphere.
Should there be a universal code of ethical decision making regarding what is posted on a blog? I would argue “yes”. Can sport bloggers reach an agreement about right/wrong and guiding principles which guarantee human rights and dignity… sadly, I think not. I, and other scholars much more versed in moral education, believe there are universal moral principles such as care and fairness. So how do you get people to critically think about what they write about and consume?
Researchers have argued that critical thinkers are much more likely to engage in ethical decision making which have three criteria according to Ennis (2000):
care that their beliefs are true and that their decisions are justified; that is, they care to get it right to the extent that it is possible;
care to present a position honestly and clearly, theirs as well as others’; and
care about the dignity and worth of every person.
Some bloggers may prioritize personal and financial gain and exposure over doing the right thing for the right reason, or doing what is best for all parties considered as a member of a collective society. Call me naive and Pollyanna but I think striving to make moral and ethical decisions is a worthy endeavor, and one that the blogosphere in general could benefit from undertaking. I think this will increasingly become relevant as digital media becomes the primary source of news and information, and issues of blog censorship arise.