ESPN aims for female audience with espnW |

ESPN aims for female audience with espnW

Selling ESPN specifically to women might not seem sensible.

But ESPN, always on the prowl for spinoffs, wants to target women with espnW.

As ESPN vice president Laura Gentile notes, ESPN’s own research finds “women see us as an admirable brand that has authority. But they see us as their father’s brand, or husband’s brand, or boyfriend’s brand. They recognize it’s not theirs”

No wonder. Men account for 76% of ESPN’s overall viewership. And just two types of programming it produces draws majority-female audiences: The National Spelling Bee on ABC (63% female) and cheerleading shows on ESPN2 (52%) – with ESPN2’s Wimbledon coverage in third place with 48%.

The network plans to make espnW a new sub-brand that will soon begin as a blog and could end up being its own TV channel. Says Gentile: “I think espnW-branded programming is in the cards, but I can’t say whether we’ll make it into a network.”

Gentile is overseeing a retreat this week at a Southern California resort – which includes athletes such as Shannon Miller, Jennie Finch, Laila Ali, Julie Foudy and Marion Jones, as well as lots of sports marketers – to toss around ideas for espnW.

And squeeze in activities such as sunrise yoga and learning to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Studio show yak probably isn’t the answer. Seven of the eight types of ESPN shows with the lowest percentages of women viewers are studio shows. (The programming with the absolute low is NCAA men’s lacrosse, where females comprise just 12% of viewers.)

ESPN’s research, says Gentile, suggests women don’t see following sports as a “passive activity” as much as men do, so espnW “should take a more active approach, showing sports but also talking about working out and being healthy and connecting to other women.”

Gentile says “the retreat, where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure, is a reflection of what we want to do with the espnW brand – find a more holistic way of looking at sports.”

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Posted on: October 1, 2010