Never accused of being a female-targeted operation, ESPN is prepping a Web site focused on girls' high school sports -- falling under an espnW brand.
As a content area, young female athletics is arguably under-covered. From a sales perspective, it offers some opportunity for advertisers to reach an elusive target -- one that a male-oriented ESPN may not have tapped.
ESPN said the espnW venture, using the lowercase font, is in the early stages -- but the network is exploring some combination of athlete-generated content, social media and its own editorial material. Other high-school sports sites, such as MaxPreps.com, allow coaches and others to upload results, statistics and videos for their teams.
There may be an opportunity to branch out beyond scores and highlights into areas such as self-help, conditioning and performance tips. Casual gaming has proven popular among an older female audience and could resonate with the teen set.
ESPN would not provide any details, saying the venture is in "the developmental stage." In a statement, the company said espnW will serve as a platform to "create a deeper relationship with female athletes."
One area that is well-covered by ESPN and others is college recruiting news for top female athletes, particularly in basketball. ESPN made a play to go further in that game last year when it acquired HoopGurlz.com and melded it into its ESPNU college sports online coverage.
It's unclear how much ESPN will sync the new "W" site with its ESPN Rise umbrella high school brand, which includes a magazine with locally targeted issues and an eponymous Web site that was launched last year. Within the Rise group, there is Girl magazine, which focuses on female teen athletes and comes out three times a year.
One sign that media companies still believe there is growth in the prep sports space came in February when Alloy Media + Marketing acquired Takkle.com and merged it with its network of teen-focused Web sites.
In mid-September in the New York area, Cablevision launched a cable network, MSG Varsity, focusing on local high-school sports. There are related Web and interactive TV offerings and a heavy focus on school-generated content.
MaxPreps.com has launched a mobile site it views as a new-age game program, allowing fans to access details about players and teams while sitting in the stands at a game. (The destination only covers male sports so far.)
Nearly 3 million girls participate in high-school sports, according to 2008 government figures. And some media executive believe there is an opportunity to attract advertisers that target active young females by attaching to sports content. HighSchoolSports.net is running a home-page banner for NikeWomen.com.
"Girls are sometimes difficult to reach other than through fashion and things along that line," said Andy Beal, president of MaxPreps, which is owned by CBS.
MaxPreps has a new deal to provide high-school coverage for Sports Illustrated's Web site and provides an online opportunity for nominations for the magazine's well-known "Faces in the Crowd" section.
Among female sports, the site focuses on volleyball, basketball and lacrosse.