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.
We’re off and running in 2011 and it doesn’t take long for some interesting items to pop up related to sports and gender.
1. A great example that sexism is alive and well lies in the firing of ESPN announcer Ron Franklin after he made a derogatory remark (i.e., “sweet baby”) to sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards in a meeting before the Fiesta Bowl. YEAH ESPN for doing the right thing.
2. The “apples to oranges” comparison between male and females athletes is also alive and well and is being perpetuated by both men and women. This was recently evident in the non-stop comparisons between the UConn vs. UCLA basketball streaks (note: many of my predictions about the coverage of UConn streak were fulfilled), and was taken to a new level by this sports blogger who is also misinformed about the target audience and purpose of espnW (note to said sports blogger: espnW does not just cover women’s sports, it is targeted toward the female sport fan). The problem with comparisons is that women’s sport and female athletes will always come out as “lesser than.” Can’t female athletes be appreciated and not constantly compared to their male colleagues?
3. It appears that the trend of featuring naked/nude female athletes in the sport media or to sell a product is all the rage. Examples of this trend can be found in ESPN The Magazine: Body Issue, Sports Illustrated, and the most recent example a colleague sent me (see picture). This is a screen shot of the New Balance homepage. How is this picture related to selling shoes? Does New Balance want to be lumped into the “sex sells” and exploiting females athletes to sell products category? Nude female athletes is a new twist on an old pattern of female athletes being portrayed “out of uniform”...literally. And for those who are going to call me a prude and outdated feminist, go right ahead. It won’t stop me from continuing to point out that portraying female athletes in this manner does NOT honor their athleticism or promote women’s sport, but marginalizes female athletes and possibly perpetuates sexism and the constant comparison I mentioned above. Can you really take a female athlete seriously as an ATHLETE when she is portrayed naked? I would argue this NB ad sells sex, not sport shoes. Disagree as you will, but I challenge you to prove me wrong that proportionately female athletes are not portrayed “out of their uniforms” more often than male athletes.
If I had to write a quote that exemplifies all that is wrong with the LFL and why its popularity is troublesome to those of us who advocate, study, play, teach and research women’s sport, I couldn’t do it. Wachter write, “While playing in the NFL takes a rare combination of strength, speed, and coordination, in the Lingerie Football League, says its founder, Mitchell Mortaza, “You have to be athletic, confident, and beautiful.“ I would argue that beautiful is the most important and valued attribute of the LFL and LFL players reflect what society has constructed as the beauty norm for women. I have no doubt some of the LFL players are great athletes who love to play football. It is unfortunate that to play a sport they love, it is necessary to do so in what is barely a uniform–a uniform which accentuates and sexualizes the female body. There are other options (see below). I doubt NFL players, 1) have contract stipulations that reads “players must cope with the possibility of “accidental” nudity” or 2) gets fined $500 if he wears any “additional garments” underneath his uniform.
I agree with my sport sociology colleagues Mike Messner and Mary Jo Kane who are quoted in the Bloomberg piece, that the LFL is not selling sport or promoting female athleticism, the LFL is selling sex.
It is well documented that sex sells just about anything, and unfortunately when women’s sport is packaged as sex, it appears to do well. Mortanza states, “We’re 260 percent more profitable so far this season than at the same point last year.” The dangerous down side of the LFL’s success is that it reinforces what many already believe: To sell women’s sport and female athletes successfully sex and sexualizing the female body must be primary. However the distinction is the LFL is selling sex, NOT sport. The LFL claims to be a “women’s pro sport” but it is little more than athletic Playboy bunnies running around for the benefit of male consumption.
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.
Sorry if I’ve been blogging less lately, there are to many things going on to take the time to blog! That said, I wanted to share with you some information you might find interesting.
1. A key Title IX ruling was recently passed down that has implications for girls and women in sport. In essence the judge ruled that cheerleading can not count towards compliance with Title IX.
2. Look for more changes regarding the way in which the NCAA calculates and oversees their Academic Progress Rates (APR). New data analysis reveals that current standards may be weaker than originally intended.
3. On the youth sport news front, The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre commissioned and released a new report on PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE IN SPORT: A review with a focus on industrialized countries. The report focuses on the fact that “it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking. Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport” (p.vii)
4. I have two related bits I’ve recently been involved with regarding big sport brands wanting to create social change. What they also have in common is both initiatives have women in charge. You can imagine I’m a bit skeptical on both, but I’m currently cautiously optimistic on both fronts.
The first is the new ESPN initiative to capture more female consumers–it is called espnW. (the “W” stands for Women). Its launch has gotten a little media buzz. I will keep you posted as I’ve been in communication with the folks at ESPN who are spearheading this new initiative. They are lead by a very sharp woman and her small staff and I believe the resources ESPN has dedicated demonstrates a desire to get this right (unlike Sports Illustrated for Women, which was a miserable failure). So far the process seems on target as they are asking key stakeholders to join the conversation and provide insight. Added NOTE (7/28/10): Read the MinnPost article titled “Media critic and women’s sports advocate Mary Jo Kane is about to step into the belly of the ESPN beast”
The second initiative is a project of the Nike Social Innovation team, also lead by two sharp women. Nike wants to use current sport science research to help leverage their resources and brand to promote and sustain physical activity in the US and UK. I was asked to be part of a multidisciplinary think tank facilitated by ShiftN (a really cool company) earlier in the month where we examined a research-based systems model of the correlates, barriers and potential outcomes of physical activity.
I am excited and honored to be a part of both these initiatives, however I am both happy and concerned that women are at the helm of these new, risky initiatives. I’ve written in an earlier post about the research on the glass cliff and I wonder if this is what is operating in the background in these instances where two big brands are taking risks.
While the glass ceiling is metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.
The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.
Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).
I hope I’m wrong, because the women I’ve met and talked to in charge of these initiatives are movers and shakers I want to see succeed in their visions.