Hey, ladies – did you know you like to watch the Kentucky Derby because you are distracted by shiny, pretty things? You don’t really like sports – NBC’s senior vice president of marketing, Mike McCarley, said so:
“Women are watching the Derby more for the spectacle than the sporting event,” McCarley said. “There’s a balance you have to strike for the different people that you’re watching.
It seems abundantly clear that ‘women who like sports’ were not one of the groups considered in that equation – but more on that in a moment.
The article goes on to point out that there is also a majority-female audience for the Summer and Winter Olympics, but once again, you and I are clearly only interested in heartwarming human interest stories and not, say, watching a sport that is otherwise rarely televised. You might have thought you were looking forward to speed skating, curling or coverage of the Olympic marathon, since those sports are nearly impossible to find the rest of the time, but NBC seems to be pretty sure you’re in the minority – and you probably really just wanted to know what the athletes were wearing.
There is no mention of what sort of research actually supported these conclusions – just that they did some market research and were duly surprised by the results. While it is true, as a good friend likes to say, that most people are ‘barely functioning,’ shouldn’t the underlying assumption be that people (male, female, intersex, transgendered – anyone) who tune into a sporting event want to see that sport? Or does the possession of two X chromosomes somehow preclude that possibility, as far as NBC is concerned? Would it shock them to know that I’ve held season tickets to two different Major League Soccer teams (from back when the league could barely field 11 reasonable players per side)? Or that I plan my vacation time around the World Cup? Or that I might wear dresses and skirts from places like Athleta or Title Nine (that being especially apt in this discussion), but that I have zero interest in who’s wearing what at Churchill Downs? Clearly, I’m not very good at this whole ‘being female’ thing – at least as far as NBC is concerned. (Wait until they find out I can’t cook and have been a Beerdrinker of the Year semifinalist two years running!)
While I had low expectations for the Bravo presentation of the Kentucky Oaks, the broadcast far exceeded my worst predictions. There was the anticipated parade of D-list celebrities, clueless presenters and generally pointless activities that had nothing to do with the race, but the tone and attitude throughout was appalling.
Rather than give some screen time to a female handicapper, trainer or jockey (and there are plenty of them – even telegenic ones), we were spent many long minutes watching a man tell a female reality tv ‘star’ how to part with her money; clearly, she could not be expected to learn these taxing skills on her own. Why not include the obviously-oblivious male presenter(s) in the fun? Or, (and here’s a radical notion), why not spend some time talking about the field, the jockeys, the trainers – really, anything actually relevant to the activity at hand? Obviously, NBC was interested in cross-promoting their brands – and that’s understandable enough – but it could easily have been planned so that those hoping to see some actual sports coverage on a purported sports broadcast (albeit on a non-sporting channel) got slightly more than about 10% of the broadcast time. But hey, NBC isn’t alone in their lack of understanding about women and sports.
Despite tracking my running data and sponsoring a women’s marathon, many at Nike seem equally unable to grasp the notion that women might actually like sports; leaving aside their highly questionable continued sponsorship of certain athletes, they chose to promote their introduction of the new home kit for the US Men’s National team not just by getting some players to model it, but by chopping it up a bit and sticking it on a Playboy model. Obviously, getting a member of the Women’s National Team would not work, as they have their own kit, but how about at least putting it on a female athlete? At least Vanity Fair is giving the men equal naked time - I have no objection to the actual players, male or female, taking off their clothes, regardless of what FIFA thinks about it.
It’s bad enough that I have to wear a child-sized jersey, since Nike does not make a women’s-fit version of the US Men’s jersey; I need to go to places like Objectivo to get unofficial t-shirts that actually fit, and even they only offer a fraction of their designs in women’s sizes. Yes, I could wear that US Women’s National Team jersey, but I’d prefer to have one of each – they are different teams, after all. Many MLS teams now offer women’s-fit versions of their home and away kits, and that’s a very welcome feature – they very rarely feel they have to put them on glamour models to market them because we’re already buying them.
It’s all a bit ironic that NBC/Bravo’s Oaks coverage is among the worst sports television I’ve ever seen, since Universal Sports has done some great programming – they just hide it away on channels you are unlikely to come across on purpose. One of the best things I’ve seen for years was their coverage of the 2009 Kona Ironman; male and female athletes were both highlighted, the program was exceptionally well-paced and well-edited and there was never a sense of condescension. Facts about triathlons were succinctly explained, so that newcomers got a sense of the sport, but there was no need for gimmicks or pointless intrusion by so-called reporters.
But perhaps we should see this as a sort of small victory – they’ve noticed that we are watching, they just aren’t sure why. So, my fellow female racing fans (and, let’s be honest, female sports fans in general), what would you prefer to see for the Oaks next year? What could be improved before the Preakness broadcast?