(WOMENSENEWS)–Anyone watching today’s U.S. women’s soccer team play France is tuning in to the sports channel ESPN, which has used the excitement of the Women’s World Cup to publicize espnW, its emerging Web site for covering women’s sports.

"We want people to think of espnW as the go-to site for female athletes and fans of women’s sports, similar to how men view ESPN as the worldwide leader in sports," Colleen Lynch, media coordinator for ESPN, told Women’s eNews.

The cable TV network, based in Bristol, Conn., hosted a June 28 publicity event in New York ahead of the first game the U.S. team played against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Passers-by in Times Square at the outdoor viewing party could join soccer drills run by Dr. Jordan Metzl, a nationally recognized sports medicine physician; take home free T-shirts from Nike, the Beaverton, Ore., maker of sporting goods that is one of espnW’s founding partners; and watch the televised game on a huge outdoor screen or "jumbotron."

The Nike T-shirts featured a large W with the slogan "One letter means a lot," emphasizing women in the same way espnW does by capitalizing the last letter and shrinking the better-known initials of the "entertainment sports programming network."

ESPN.com’s limited attention to women’s sports was evident on July 12, when the homepage was dominated by all-star weekend coverage of Major League Baseball. That consumed more space than the combined coverage of the Women’s World Cup and women’s basketball.

Limited Coverage

Only one of the five front-page stories on ESPN.com was about women’s sports. Its headline–"The U.S. women’s soccer team reminded fans that sports still can be beautiful"–navigated readers off to espnW, where a posting on female soccer players’ workouts dominated the front of the site.

For the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the site has been offering video and written commentary and analysis by Mia Hamm, a retired forward for the U.S. soccer team who at 19 became in 1991the youngest American female to win a World Cup championship.

Other reporters include Heather Mitts, member of the current U.S. women’s soccer team, and Christine Sinclair, captain of Canada’s women’s soccer team.

The site–which lists the Women’s Sports Foundation, a leading advocacy group, as a founding member–is also hosting the HERoics documentary series of six short films on women and soccer, and offers the by-now obligatory Facebook page and Twitter feed for short, constantly updating messages to followers.

"Team USA: We’re too excited to sleep! Can’t wait to watch you in action tomorrow," read a July 12 tweet. "You’ve got our support . . . we’ll be glued. #espnwusa"

Expanded Site

Visitors to the site will find it considerably expanded from December 2010, when it first appeared in a blog format.

Now there are sections for news, opinion, athlete profiles and training. The site lists 16 contributors and members of the advisory board include Julie Foudy, former player on the U.S. women’s soccer team, Jessica Mendoza, player on the women’s national softball team from 2004-2010, and Lisa Leslie, retired WNBA star.

However, the idea of ESPN developing a specialized women’s sports site doesn’t thrill everyone.

"Women already have an ESPN. It’s called ESPN. The idea that women need a ‘girlier’ version of sport programming is insulting," sports blogger Julie DiCaro wrote on her blog, A League of Her Own, in October 2010.

Aside from the idea that women’s sports should be covered side-by-side with men’s, there is also the worry that a separate site would drain coverage of women’s sports from the more well-known ESPN site.

One sign of women’s interest in following sports is the strong proportion of women who follow men’s sports. Women, for instance, are close to half of the fan base for men’s football and baseball.

Meanwhile, sports media dedicated to women’s sports is scarce.

One of the only specialized sources for women’s sports is Womensportreport.com, an online magazine based in Honiton, Devon. The British site was created over five years ago. While the site offers much–if not more–than espnW, it doesn’t have the same mass-market reach as ESPN.

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Krystie Lee Yandoli is a Women’s eNews editorial intern.

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