New sports network puts women first

Jun 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The world’s first 24-hour television network dedicated to women’s sports is scheduled to make its debut this fall in Canada.
Owned by Toronto-based Netstar Communications, the Women’s Television Sports Network will launch Sept. 7 with an eight-hour wheel of programming that will include original series, live sporting events, health and fitness programs, issue-oriented programs and instructional programs to teach women not familiar with sports the rules of the games.
“If we can do that in an entertaining and informative way, then I think we’ve advanced women’s sports one more step,” said Sue Prestedge, WTSN senior vice president.
Bell Globemedia, parent of the CTV network, which is majority owner of Netstar Communications, already counts among its holdings 13 specialty cable and pay television channels, including TSN (The Sports Network) and the Discovery Channel. WTSN is a spinoff of TSN, Canada’s most watched specialty cable channel, which reaches 7.6 million households. About 33 percent of those viewers are women, but WTSN believes more women would watch sports if they could tune in to a station devoted to women’s sports.
“WTSN’s sports coverage will include profiles of female Canadian sports heroes as well as broadcasts of women’s team and individual events from basketball, hockey, soccer and curling to tennis, skiing and swimming. The new network also expects to do some live-event simulcasting with TSN. “In our first year, we’ll watch how we’re spending our money,” said Ms. Prestedge. “So we might run round robins leading up to a championship game, then maybe simulcast championship games with TSN.”
Synergies will extend to advertising as well, with TSN acting as “a big door opener,” said Cheryl Field, director of sales for WTSN, TSN and RDS (Le Reseau des Sports), a French-language sports network. WTSN is going after a wide variety of advertisers, including “packaged goods, health and beauty, automotive, beverage, telecommunications and sporting goods, to name a few,” said Ms. Field. “It’s going to be a fun sell because we’re going to go after advertisers that haven’t necessarily booked TSN in the past. So it’s going to open up a new door of advertisers to our company.”
“We don’t want to just sell spots. What we’re trying to do is create partnerships with long-term advertisers,” said Ms. Field. WTSN’s sales focus will be on selling sponsorship packages at the gold, silver and bronze levels, a successful sales strategy CTV employed when it launched the Discovery Channel. Packages could include title sponsorship of programs, and interactive components when interactive TV and WTSN’s Web site are launched after WTSN goes live.
Programming will include a variety of Canadian-produced shows, such as a 26-week soccer series, “Kicks for Chicks,” and “Hockey Her Way,” an instructional program that will feature well-known female hockey players dropping in to demonstrate drills and skills.
A one-hour weekend magazine show, “Sports Access,” will include clips about women’s sports and female athletes from around the world. “Benchmarks,” an issues-oriented 13-part series, will cover female athletes and women involved in athletics who are dealing with particular issues such as race and mental illness, ethics and competition, or power structures in sports and how they relate to women.
WTSN picked up two programs at Sportel in Miami, including “PE-TV,” a series focused on youth and sports, and “Matchpoint,” a one-hour documentary about tennis-playing sisters Venus and Serena Williams.
WTSN is expecting to draw male and female viewers. “Good programming is good programming; good storytelling is good storytelling. That attracts men and women viewers-it doesn’t matter whom,” said Ms. Prestedge. “And also, think about the number of fathers, for instance, that are very much involved in their daughters’ sports.”
A mother of three girls who are active in sports, Ms. Prestedge is particularly passionate about making a difference for young girls interested in sports as well as creating a community among women of all ages who are interested in sports.
“Sometimes I get so passionate and get caught up in this whole idea of how we can change women’s sports, but I think we can,” Ms. Prestedge said. “The more that they see themselves reflected in television programming, I think it will have an effect on them. I honestly believe if these young women could see themselves portrayed, or at least their sport reflected in a very positive sense, that it would convince a lot of them to stay in the sport.”