SBD/January 6, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Catching Up With espnW VP Laura Gentile

Gentile's focus is growing ESPN's female demographic

As LAURA GENTILE rings in the new year, one of her goals will be for espnW to bolster ESPN's female demographic. The espnW VP has spent the past two years cultivating the new venture, which will fully launch in the spring. Gentile, who also serves as ESPN RISE VP/Digital & Publishing, recently spoke with Staff Writer Theresa Manahan about the launch of the espnW platform and the site's resolutions for '11. 

What did you do for New Year's? I did the Midnight Run in Central Park.
Besides espnW, what other women’s sports site do you regularly check? WomenTalkSports.com for their array of diverse content in the women’s landscape is a place we look at quite a lot.
Book you're currently reading: “The Shipping News,” by ANNIE PROULX.
First sports jersey you ever owned
: DON MATTINGLY’s No. 23 Yankees jersey.

Q: What is the next step in the launch of the espnW brand?

Gentile: It’s continuing to learn and continuing to improve, but really we’re gearing up for basically what we’re calling ESPNW.com 2.0, which is essentially where we are evolving the blog into a full-fledged website. That’s still slated for spring of 2011. Essentially what we’re going to be doing between now and the spring is just laying in more and more content. What you’ll see is probably more content focused on the athlete. And when we say athlete, we don’t necessarily mean the pro athlete, we mean the everyday athlete. 
 

Q: How long was ESPN considering this venture?

Gentile: It’s over two years. It dates back into easily the latter days of 2008. It’s two-plus years of thinking this through. I think one thing that might get missed in all the stories about W is that it’s a bigger vision for serving girls and women. So a lot of the work that the espnW team is focused on also has to do with elevating and educating and informing girls within ESPN Rise. And that’s really part of the W strategy. So there is the W brand, but there is also a big commitment in the company to serving girls in a much fuller, richer, complete way through ESPN Rise.

Q: If we were to talk in January 2012, what would be three accomplishments of espnW in 2011?

Gentile: One certainly is to have an excellent digital presence. So that probably encompasses all three because when we talk about that, we certainly talk about espnW.com being a great rich experience where women really want to spend quite a lot of time with us. It would certainly be an excellent mobile experience across smartphones, across apps, across all feature phones. Then the third is continuing to build out our social presence and having a very big presence on Facebook with a dedicated Facebook app and continuing to develop our Twitter voice and a presence on YouTube. So a lot of it is focused around the digital portfolio.

Q: What do you say to critics who claim the venture is segregating and condescending?

Gentile: That’s certainly not our goal. Everything that we have set out to do is to be additive for female sports fans and additive for everything that already exists out there. A lot of women -- and we’re hearing this a lot and it’s great news -- feel like they are already served by ESPN.com. So that’s fantastic. This is really meant to be a new sort of front door into ESPN for a lot of women, and potentially a new generation of women. So it’s somewhat akin to our local strategy. It’s somewhat akin to Deportes, which is looking at specific audiences and trying to go deeper and trying to serve them more specifically in a more targeted and tailored environment. That’s really what we are trying to do. If there are women who are completely well-served by ESPN.com and they go there everyday and they love it, that’s great.

Q: From your research, how are female sports fans different consumers than men?

Gentile: It’s very nuanced. It’s very easy to make generalizations. The number one thing that we have seen as an analogy to what the differences are is Olympic-style coverage. A lot of the women that we spoke to, and we’ve spoken to over 2,000 women in both qualitative research and quantitative research, said that level of storytelling, back story context, rich delving into the athletes and their journeys is very much what they want. And that’s what we endeavor to provide over time at espnW.com.

Q: Why the lowercase in espnW?

Gentile: A lot of different considerations were made there. I feel like ultimately it signifies a new take on ESPN and an emphasis on the W.

Q: What’s a typical day in the office like for you?

Gentile: It’s pretty invigorating. It runs the gamut of continuing to drive the ESPN Rise business and enhancing our digital strategy on the Rise business, to looking at the Girl magazine that we created within ESPN Rise and ensuring the stories make sense and it’s serving their needs and providing the support and information that they want. And it’s a little bit of Human Resources-type stuff and work chart development and organizational development, and it’s a lot of discussion on the espnW product and what are users saying, what are our surveys telling us, what do the analytics look like and continuing to plan for the future.

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