This isn’t going to be a popular blog post.
Yesterday, the hockey world found out that CBC has partnered with While the Men Watch, an online sports talk show hosted by Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso aimed at women. The hockey world, collectively, flipped out. You see, While the Men Watch is not really a sports talk show for women. It’s a sports talk show for women who don’t particularly care or know anything about sports. They describe themselves as “Sex and the City meets ESPN,” which should tell you immediately whether you will love the show or want to punch yourself in the face rather than listen to them talk.
My immediate reaction was similar to that of many hockey fans: I thought it was completely sexist. Female hockey fans are just as knowledgeable, fanatical, and obsessive about the game as male hockey fans. For that matter, female hockey fans can be just as ignorant, fickle, and indifferent as male hockey fans. The point is that hockey fans are hockey fans: gender, race, religion, etc. shouldn’t enter into the picture. At first glance While the Men Watch is perpetuating an outdated stereotype that women don’t like sports.
But the more I look at it, the more I think that it’s actually a decent idea that has just been presented poorly.
The vast majority of hockey fans, particularly female hockey fans, hate the entire concept of While the Men Watch. Well, yeah. The entire concept of the show is that it isn’t for fans of the sport; it’s for people who don’t care about sports but have significant others whose lives revolve around sports. It’s a way for these people to watch a game and enjoy it.
Now, I said “people” and “significant others” in the preceding paragraph on purpose, because this is where CBC and the two women behind While the Men Watch have made a significant misstep that has left them open to accusations of sexism. The show isn’t for women: it’s for anyone, male or female, who would rather talk about…whatever it is they talk about, while getting a small taste of sports talk, than listen to the play-by-play and follow the action on the ice with religious intensity.
What CBC is trying to do is attract an audience that doesn’t normally watch Hockey Night in Canada. Regrettably, they have given the impression that said audience is all women. That isn’t the case: their target audience with this partnership is people who don’t like hockey. Really, you have to applaud CBC’s audacity: they are literally trying to get people who don’t like hockey to like hockey.
The name is unfortunate: “while the men watch” immediately sets boundaries that shouldn’t exist. The implication is, admittedly, sexist: men watch sports, women don’t. Personally, I wish that they had chosen a new title for the partnership with CBC, but I understand that the name already has some traction and that they have built up a fanbase. Still, it’s a potentially alienating name that also has creepy voyeuristic implications that are best left unexplored.
Personally, I don’t get it. I read a few of the articles on their website and was left shaking my head. It’s definitely not for me. But I don’t get the appeal of Sex and the City, any of the Real Housewives shows, or celebrity gossip magazines either. Apparently, though, there are men and women out there who watch those shows and read those magazines and don’t give a rip about sports. If something like While the Men Watch can get those people interested in hockey, why not?
Are they saying that this is the only way that all women can watch and enjoy sports? I don’t think that is the case.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, my initial reaction was quite negative. It was my wife who got me to look at it from a different angle and re-evaluate my stance. It wasn’t too long ago that she didn’t care about hockey at all and only started watching hockey because she married someone who cares way too much about hockey. It’s not that she didn’t like sports: she grew up in Washington state, where hockey is well below the radar. She’s an athlete too: she played softball and volleyball, even playing volleyball in college, She’s a big Seattle Mariners and Seahawks fan.
My wife didn’t like hockey at first, but she watched it because I was watching it and gradually became a fan. The first moment that hockey clicked for her was watching the Washington Capitals back when they were a free-wheeling, flashy, offensive nightmare for their opposition and not a trapping, shot-blocking, amorphous blob. Then it was the Sedins, with their incredible creativity in the offensive zone. Then came the appreciation for the rest of the game.
She’s a hockey fan now, with fantasy hockey teams, playoff pools, and a particular love of going to minor-league and junior games (Go Aldergrove Kodiaks!), but it was tough for her starting out. I grew up watching hockey: I’ve never had issues following the puck or seeing plays develop because it’s been ingrained in me since I was young. I just know how to watch hockey. She didn’t. She had to develop the ability to watch hockey over time and it was a tough transition.
In fact, my wife told me that it would have been great if there was a blog from the perspective of a wife of a hockey fan that she could read or, better yet, an online community where she could find fellow newcomers to hockey and commiserate with them so that they could learn together. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find one. Would While the Men Watch be right for her? Not necessarily: she’s not a Sex and the City person. Or ESPN for that matter. But she does constantly comment on the quality (or lack thereof) of coaches and commentators ties.
It’s not a gender thing either: my best male friend in university never really got hockey. Though he likes basketball, he isn’t a big sports fan in general. He’s more into theology, comic books, and poetry, but that’s a much smaller demographic. It wouldn’t make much sense for CBC to target men who don’t like hockey with commentary that discussed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Grant Morrison, and Robert Hayden. I mean, I’d listen to it, but I already like hockey.
As insulting as it may seem, the target audience of women who don’t like hockey but whose husbands and boyfriends really, really do is out there and it’s big enough that CBC wants them watching Hockey Night in Canada. The fact is that Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso exist. They are girlfriends of rabid sports fans who didn’t care about sports. And there are many, many women (and men) out there like them.
The issue of stereotyping is a tough one, but the fact is that anything that has a “target audience” is stereotyping to some degree. If the target market is 18-24-year-old males, certain assumptions are going to be made. If the target market is middle-aged housewives, different assumptions are going to be made. And if the target market is people who don’t normally watch hockey but whose significant others do, they’re going to make other assumptions about what those people would rather be talking about and listening to. This is simply a reality of marketing: any assumption of a broad swath of people will involve stereotypes.
The hardcore female hockey fans that are upset about While the Men Watch are not the show’s demographic. They don’t fit the stereotype that CBC is aiming for with their target audience for the show.
The problem is that wasn’t clear in the first place.