What must it feel like to be a woman covering football at ESPN to see this latest news from Bristol.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will make their NFL broadcasting debuts on Monday Night Football.
So two men who have spent the past decade-plus hosting the network’s college football pregame show and broadcasting games will get a spot-start broadcasting the Monday Night Football’s early game during the NFL’s opening weekend.
But considering that nearly 50 percent of NFL fans are women, wouldn’t it have made sense to flout a trial balloon with one of the many women at ESPN who have been covering the NFL? I mean, it seems like a no-brainer here if you’re concerned about appealing to your female audience and cultivating new voices for the long-running brand.
Fowler even tweeted about the busy weekend he’ll have for that season opener, with his college broadcast duties, U.S. Open tennis, and Monday Night Football. I’m sure he’ll be fully prepared for that Monday night call. I’ll be waiting for them to rule one-foot down a catch.
Seems like there’s something wrong with one man being tripled booked, while a woman can’t get a toe in the door.
Back in May, Deadspin’s Julie DiCaro broke all this down when Disney was looking for a new broadcast team, even highlighting a few prominent names worth considering. Of course the World Wide Leader didn’t hand over a mic to a woman to fill their prime slot. Those jobs went to three other men: Steve Levy, Brian Griese and former NFL GM Louis Riddick.
Hasn’t Andrea Kremer, with her 30-plus years in sports journalism, earned a shot over Herbstreit? Or Beth Mowins, or Lisa Salters, or a host of other women who have worked in this space for decades.
If the NFL really cared about half of its fans, ESPN would give one of these women a shot.
Here’s what Julie wrote about this three months ago:
Want to see a sexist NFL fan’s head explode? Mention that nearly half the NFL’s audience is made up of women.
Despite the hollows of “fake news!” every time I bring this fact up, it’s true. Back in 2017, Reuters reported that women composed 45% of the National Football League’s fan base. The NFL itself confirmed that number in February, when Roger Goodell announced that the league was pulling in a record 187.3 million fans, a full 47% of whom are women. Still not convinced? Follow the ad money. During the 2020 Super Bowl, we saw ads from Olay, a Microsoft ad featuring 49ers coach Katie Sowers, and the passing-the-torch pre-game ad, which featured multiple young girls playing football alongside the boys. In the last two years, the NFL estimates women viewership has increased by 11 percent.
ESPN had an opportunity to do something that would have not only appealed to 50 percent of its fanbase, but given needed exposure to a woman who has earned such a shot, the type of exposure and experience that could lead to more opportunities down the road.
Instead it gave two men who have spent years in the college game a pro promotion.
“Chris and Kirk are commentators at the top of their game and have thrilled college football fans for many years,” Connor Schell, ESPN’s executive vice president of content, said in a release. “We are looking to add new opportunities to their expansive portfolios and are confident that NFL fans will be just as excited to hear one of the most prolific broadcasting duos on ‘Monday Night Football.”
It’s hard enough for women to make their way in sports journalism, even harder when the biggest game in town would rather overload a man with back-to-back-to-back gigs in three different sports than give a woman a chance.
It must feel pretty fucking awful.