Women’s Sports — They’re Good Business
Published on March 30, 2022, at 6:55 p.m.
by Katie Holec.
“The Worldwide Leader in Sports” — better known as ESPN — launched in 1979. Many consumers sat in front of their TVs to watch the premiere episode of “SportsCenter.”
Since then, ESPN has created a name for itself. Its mission is to “Serve Sports Fans. Anytime. Anywhere.”
When it comes to women’s sports, it does just that.
ESPN has televised women’s sports “from [its] early days,” according to ESPN Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca.
In addition, although it seems like women’s sports do not receive enough coverage, “increasing ratings for women’s sports tell us fans want more,” LaPlaca said.
“I think you’d be hard pressed to find a media company more committed [to women’s sports],” LaPlaca explained. “If anything, in recent years, we are pivoting more aggressively in that direction.”
Women’s sports are becoming more popular in the entertainment industry and continue to gain coverage.
Dan Margulis, senior director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, said, “Women’s sports have grown, and we’ve grown with it.
“We [air] sports that we know people want to see and where there’s a viewership. [The women] who played those sports now become viewers, and it’s not just them — it’s fans and parents also.”
Weekend of women’s sports
The weekend of Feb. 17-20 brought about ESPN’s “unprecedented weekend of premier women’s sports events.”
A special edition of “College GameDay” aired, as well as the St. Pete Clearwater (SPC) Elite Invitational, NCAA Gymnastics and the United States Women’s National Team matchup in the She Believes Cup.
What seemed like a planned weekend of sports wasn’t exactly the case.
“We actually didn’t schedule it that way. We just took a look at what was there. We didn’t say, let’s do a women’s sports weekend and let’s forget [the other events],” Margulis said. “The events were there, and then we gave it a name — that’s just part of the growth of the sport.”
Growing the dream
The 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” is famous for the phrase “If you build it, he will come.”
ESPN sports reporter Holly Rowe has used this phrase many times on her Twitter account and while reporting, saying, “If you build it, they will come.”
“I think you [can] grow any sport, whether it’s a women’s sport or a men’s sport. You experiment as you grow and see what works. If it keeps working, you keep telling that story and you do more,” Margulis said. “The fact that there’s more softball games, gymnastics [meets] and women’s basketball is a sign that something’s working.”
Champions of viewership
The 2020-2021 various women’s championships’ viewership growth illustrates that something is working.
ESPN aired the most-viewed Women’s College World Series (WCWS) ever, the most-viewed gymnastics championship on ESPN Networks and the most-viewed Final Four in nearly a decade.
Those were just some of the milestones that the company hit during the 2020-2021 season.
In 2022, ESPN added many more accolades to its viewership trophy case, including the final game of the SPC Elite Invitational and Women’s College Basketball game No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 12 Tennessee.
The SPC Elite Invitational games that featured two WCWS teams, the UCLA Bruins and Florida State Seminoles, brought in an average of 620,000 viewers — the most-viewed regular season college softball game in seven years.
The Gamecock’s wins over the Lady Vols became the most-viewed regular season women’s college basketball game in five years on ABC, while also averaging 400,000 viewers on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
Women in sports at ESPN
While ESPN is committed to airing women’s sports, it also has women working in its offices and on production crews.
“We’ve been a leader in providing opportunity to women sportscasters for much of our history,” LaPlaca said.
In early February, ESPN announced that it was planning to produce its first NBA game on a national scale with an all-women crew.
“That event was the next step in an ongoing commitment,” LaPlaca continued.
Communications Manager Amanda Brooks mentioned that “anybody who was working on that game already work[ed] on the sport.
To her, as a woman in sports, it was “one of the coolest things to see.”
When she first started out in the industry, seeing women in sports wasn’t a normal thing. Now she works on SEC Network, and for one of its shows, “every person that’s in a leadership role, except for one, is a woman.”
ESPN has an “ongoing commitment” to providing opportunities for women in sports. Having women as a key part of ESPN’s production shows young women that they, too, can be a leader in the sports industry one day.
“Women’s sports are not a charity and women in sports are not a charity; [they’re] good business,” Brooks said. “That’s one of the important things when you see [women-led] broadcasts and ESPN’s commitment to women’s sports — it’s just good business.”