Sports site tries to win favor of female athletes

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A new company hopes to score support from marketers by capitalizing on the growing popularity of women's sports.

Women's Sports Network officially goes live on the Web this week. New York-based WSN is designed to link marketers with female athletes, coaches and parents through and off-line activities such as this month's "Girls on the Move" bike tour that rolls through mid-November.

Core Capital Partners is a major investor in the new venture. Tennis legend Billie Jean King and Olympic gold medalist Donna de Varona also have equity stakes.

"We're providing marketers with direct access to offline and online vehicles" to reach their targets, said Lisa Sherman, president-chief operating officer.

WSN's site supplies content such as athlete news and information, chats and personal club pages. Its registration technology lets girls sign up for local and national events.

WSN will use permission-based direct marketing tactics to serve the teen registrant information to sponsors. For example, marketers will be able to communicate with the thousands of teens that registered for "Girls on the Move" through WSN. The company also wants to act as a broker to bring sponsors to teen-oriented athletic events.

In the case of "Girls on the Move," WSN will work with sponsors to provide signage and sampling for the bike tour.

"This is a way to reach teen girls around [a particular sport] in which they've already expressed interest," said CEO Debra Zeyen.

WSN is talking with a soft drink company and shoe manufacturer about potential sponsorships. In addition, WSN is targeting other industries such as personal care and financial institutions.


WSN's launch is timed with the Olympic Games underway in Sydney. This year, 4,400 females, or 42% of the 10,500 of the Olympic athletes, will compete in the Sydney games. It's the highest female participation rate in Olympic history.

WSN's debut also comes as more females play sports in general. Since 1972, the number of high school girls playing sports has soared from 4% to more than 40% in 1998, according to the Women's Sports Foundation.

Female sports participation and fan interest also has grown with the launch of the Women's National Basketball League and the popularity of the victorious Women's World Cup soccer team in 1999.

"I noticed that there was clearly something happening in women's sports," said Ms. Sherman. "It was attracting a family demographic we haven't seen before."

Ms. Sherman joined forces a year ago with Ms. Zeyen, a friend and former general manager, to create the female and family oriented sports company.

Ms. Zeyen said traditional sports sites are male-dominated, dedicating only about 5% of their content to women's sports. She said men and women want different information from sports sites.

"Guys really like scores and stats," she said. "Women really like the story behind the story."

To feed that female need, WSN's site offers a multitude of information from female athletes, such as daily journal entries and game-improvement advice. In one section, WNBA All Star Nikki McCray offers tips on how to improve a cross-over dribble. In November, the site will begin streaming video of the athletes in action.

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