Opinion: Sex sells everywhere — except at sports web sites

When both skimpy photos and sports coverage have been readily available online for longer than most teens have been alive, why does Sports Illustrated still feel the need to sell one with the other?

Though SportsByBrooks and its online ogling gallery have remained frozen in time for years and Busted Coverage no longer merits a publishing partners’ mention on the Wahwah Networks’ homepage with The Chive and Barstool Sports, SI still thinks the “Maxim, but for sports” approach to online coverage is a great sell. However, not only is SI’s “Lovely Lady of the Day” approach to sports dated by even its own FHM-era standards, it’s dated even for the old-perv-with-a-newspaper demographic.

Seriously, just about the only functional outlets that are still doing this are The Sun in the U.K., which trots out its Page 3 Girls and Trenton, N.J.’s own Trentonian, where the girls are relegated to Page 6. You know why nobody does this anymore? Because it’s just terrible business.

That’s what Men’s Health magazine discovered when it ran a piece last year titled “How to Talk About Sports With Women,” suggesting that female sports fans weren’t interested in stats and needed storylines instead to hold their attention. Even Sports Illustrated itself could have taken the hint when, back in 2013, the University of Louisville discovered that 95% of the athletes the magazine put on its cover between 2001 and 2011 were men. That gave women 35 covers out of 715, not counting the swimsuit issue.

As the rest of the industry focuses on broader and smarter coverage, Sports Illustrated’s embrace of the bikini photo seems especially stubborn when it isn’t working.

But no. Instead, it just continues to push its Extra Mustard vertical — which seems to consist of the parts of ESPN’s Page 2 that the Worldwide Leader discarded years ago — and its twice-daily Hot Clicks blasts of aggregated links. We’re sure it was a fine idea when it was introduced … by YardBarker nearly nine years ago. But that site and its newsletter, which have been in Fox’s
 hands since 2010, took a similar approach without including a centerfold. While sites like Yahoo!
 PostGame have managed to do the same, only SI’s Extra Mustard and USA Today’s The Big Lead and its Roundup and BNQT cover girls continue to go to the swimsuit shots.

We’re not bringing up this issue out of some inherent sense of social justice. As we’ve seen from the Men’s Health example, the reaction to Fox replacing Pam Oliver with Erin Andrews on its No. 1 NFL coverage team and trial lawyer Michele Roberts becoming head of the National Basketball Association players’ union (“My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on”), it’s clear that women have their own backs in this regard. No, we’re bringing this up because it’s cave-paint tactics like this that are killing Sports Illustrated.

SI is about a decade removed from a time when it could afford to be retrograde. Gawker Media sports tabloid Deadspin not only celebrates its 10th birthday this year, but it’s now been five years since it broke the story about then-New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre sending a picture of his lesser-seen appendage to team reporter Jenn Sterger. The Fire Joe Morgan blog, which launched around the same time as Deadspin, has not only been down for nearly seven years, but founder Michael Schur is watching the first sitcom he created, NBC’s “Parks & Recreation,” be renewed for another season. Kissing Suzy Kolber, Awful Announcing, even ESPN’s Grantland have all shown the broad spectrum that sports coverage can encompass and the benefits of letting more people in on the discussion.

Sports Illustrated, meanwhile, tied its fate to digital in 2011, when it stopped selling print-only subscriptions. By the end of 2013, it saw paid circulation fall nearly 5% from 3.2 million in 2012 to a little more than 3 million, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. That still put it among the top 15 publications in the U.S., but moved it in the wrong direction as ESPN The Magazine sales rose 1%. Last summer, Sports Illustrated sales dropped yet again to nearly 3 million as ESPN The Magazine rose to 2.14 million.

As the rest of the industry focuses on broader and, in many cases, smarter coverage and ideas, Sports Illustrated’s embrace of the bikini photo seems especially stubborn when it isn’t working. As sports writer and Fulbright scholar Paul M. Banks wrote for Chicago Now two years ago: It’s “unoriginal and dumbing us down.”

The swimsuit issue was one thing: A once-a-year item that could be cast aside or critiqued as one saw fit. It even gave ESPN The Magazine an opening for its “body issue” that not only features both male and female athletes, but highlights body types as disparate as U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s and Detroit Tigers slugger Prince Fielder’s. But the “Lovely Lady of the Day”? Not only is it something available in just about every corner of the Internet, it’s something just as easily avoided on every other sports site.

While the pics keep coming with each update, it should be noted that Sports Illustrated and Extra Mustard have, at the very least, cleaned out the gallery under their “Ladies” tab. While we credit them for making readers actually look at some content before skipping to the pics, maybe they can fold up grandpa’s auto-parts calendar altogether and focus on the writing, as it does in the stronger portions of its site.

That might not happen anytime soon. For now, the Hot Clicks section of Extra Mustard — “Where Culture Meets Sports” — has a devoted following of drooling men.

“Hot Clicks remains one of our top-five trafficked stories every day and one of the most popular features on SI.com,” says Andy Gray, who writes those daily stories. “And the Lovely Lady of the Day is a huge part of that.”

Post-game highlights

We’ll admit, we love the idea of the Milwaukee Brewers’ “Timeless Ticket.” For $1,000, you get a bronze ticket that’s good for any game other than Opening Day. That could mean a great club seat for an interleague matchup or just a foot in the door for a World Series game during any year. What we don’t like is that $1,000 part. Unless it’s Game 7 of the World Series, there’s just about zero chance that you’re turning that in for a seat worth $1,000. Basically, any time you go to StubHub and see a ticket for less than $1,000, you’re getting a better deal than this ticket provides. However, with the Brewers throwing in three other face-value tickets as a perk, fans buying this ticket have to really hope the Brewers channel their inner Kansas City Royals and break a World Series dry spell that’s continued since 1982.

We’ll say this about Major League Soccer: Ouch. Forget the Frank Lampard mess in New York, Steven Gerrard’s retirement in Los Angeles and the sad return of Jozy Altidore after a disappointing tenure in Sunderland. Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm said this about the league to L’Equipe: “I want to have the memory of magnificent years with the national team and Bayern. I don’t see myself going to the USA or Qatar.” Yep, MLS, you’re the Qatari league: An overfunded minor league where European stars in their twilight years can collect money for minimal effort. If your players aren’t on the way up and out, they’re on the way down. Great job. Best of luck in Orlando.

View more information: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/sex-doesnt-sell-apparently-at-sports-web-sites-2015-01-16

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