Last month, ESPN announced more formalized plans for new products and strategies geared toward women’s sports. The initiative, espnW, will not only assist in developing content and plans for current ESPN programming and media (such as its high school sports-oriented site, ESPNRise.com), but will also look into launching its own stand-alone properties.  In an article for Media Post, Laura Gentile, the newly named vice president of the espnW business unit stated, “We’re kind of this business unit within the company that’s influencing businesses, where it makes sense, while also eventually launching a stand-alone brand.”

Targeting women’s sports is a smart move for ESPN who sees women comprising about one-third of its current viewership.  Participation in women’s sports continues to grow through high schools, college and professional organizations and even when women aren’t playing the game, they are attending it and supporting their favorite teams and players.  Women make up 46.5% of MLB fans, 43.2% of NFL fans and 40.8% of fans at NHL games.  Women spent 80% of all sport apparel dollars and purchase a whopping 46% of official NFL merchandise.   Women may just be the best untapped opportunity for the sports industry—a fact that the WNBA has known for quite sometime.

In 2001, WNBA games were broadcast to nearly 60 million fans in 23 different languages and 167 countries.  While the ‘in-arena’ audience skews heavy with female fans (about 70% of those in the stands are women), the TV audience attracts a 50-50 mix of females and males—once again proving that targeting women does not mean ignoring men.  So, how do they do it?  At the core of the WNBA’s marketing success has been their attention to values.  Showcasing players who are good role models, who are passionate about what they do and developing platforms that tap into those values for their fan base—a strategy that other sports organizations may want to lift from the WNBA handbook.  They have created innovative ways for marketing partners to engage with fans and with this year’s “Expect Great” theme, we can only have the highest expectations for a brand that has always been great.

This leader of marketing to women success will be bringing its story to the stage of next week’s M2W®-The Marketing To Women Conference.  The closing keynote speaker will be WNBA president, Donna Orender–an amazing speaker who will not only inform, but will inspire.   “I am thrilled to be a part of the M2W® event, which plays an important role in providing valuable information to companies on the importance of women to growing their brand,” says Orender.  “Women make 80 percent of purchasing decisions, small business growth is led by women entrepreneurs, and the world’s largest economy is American women.  Having the absolute privilege to represent the most successful women’s sports league in the world, I see first-hand, every day, the power and inspiration of strong, successful women to build and sustain an organization.”

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