You should know that 1. I have no idea what sporting interests my daughter may or may not have in the future, and 2. I have no formal background in marketing and promotion.
It goes without saying, however, as a father, that I want the best possible opportunities for her. By extension, I want the same opportunities for all young girls out there. It is only fair.
The NCAA Division I Basketball Championships are for both men and women. As both tournaments began this past weekend, it became painfully obvious how disparate the coverage is. Every men’s game is carried live on television and is available to stream to your computer, tablet or smartphone for at most $3.99 total for all of the games.
By contrast, EPSN offers only one game at a time (with some cut-aways occasionally to other games). The choice from the self-declared world-wide leader in sports is baffling at best. On Saturday, my wife and I sat down to watch the University of South Carolina Lady Gamecocks play. After about a minute of play with the score 3-2, ESPN gave us the game they wanted us to watch, Texas & West Virginia, which was then tipping off.
Understand that we live under a hundred miles from the USC campus. USC is the closest team in the tournament to where we live. In my book, we are obviously located in the USC market. More broadly, this is ACC and SEC country. USC is in the SEC. The University of Texas, part of the Big 12 (at least until they can find a bigger pot and brighter rainbow for themselves), is 1,200 miles away while West Virginia, part of the Big East (at least for another week or two, until they move way west to hopefully bigger pots and larger rainbows), is 400 miles away. They are fine institutions, but in this part of the country, who cares.
So, the game I want isn’t on ESPN2. No problem, I thought, as I’ll just go to ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360 and being re-branded again into Watch EPSN, I think) and stream the game. Oooopss. ESPN limits access to EPSN3 to providers of their choice. Because I have chosen a satellite provider, ESPN says it’s not interested in my patronage. The issue here lies in hidden monthly subscriber fees assessed on all, mostly unknowing, customers, not just those who watch sports, of an ESPN-approved signal provider (read: provider who agrees to charge all its customers an ESPN access fee and pass it on). That’s another issue entirely, too lengthy to cover here today.
Never mind, EPSN3. Let’s see what it costs for pay-per-view. A current movie blockbuster runs at most $4.99, so a similar length basketball game ought to be no more than than that, probably less, since, honestly, demand for game is less. Wrong again, it’s $16 per game! At this point, reluctantly I passed on the Lady Gamecocks in action and turned off ESPN (and the television entirely), a few choice words under my breath.
I get that interest in men’s and women’s sports is not equal at all, for which there are many reasons. But we cannot undo the past, only change future direction. Girls and women have benefited immensely from Title IX for the past 30 years. The increase in sports participation for women is dramatic. Participation is the base on which promotion can build.
We need similar improvements in promoting women’s sports. It will take years, so we better get started. Seat by seat, viewer by viewer, women’s sports has to be built and promoted. Part of this means that the opportunity to watch women playing sports has to be easy and widespread. For decades, the NFL has insisted on free (non pay-per-view) television coverage of every team in its home market for all its games. The ratings and interest enjoyed by the NFL today were built one fan at a time for the past 50 years.
It looks to me like ESPN has little interest in covering the women’s tournament early rounds extensively, for what it perceives to be valid financial reasons. I’m sure the ratings and pay-per-view revenue tell them this. Given the fact that every tournament game has ESPN cameras and announcers already in place, they should make it easy, not hard, to watch all the games. That way they have a chance to build an audience over time, one viewer at at time.
Listen up college sports administrators. You too, NCAA. Insist that your broadcast partners cover every game and make them easy to watch. Don’t turn away those who already have an interest. Build interest in women’s sports. It will take time. It might be faster than we think, if some events go viral.
Our daughters will benefit tomorrow from increased opportunities. Let’s do it for them. It’s the right thing to do.