Howard Megdal has written numerous baseball books, including a forthcoming one on the St. Louis Cardinals, and contributed to plenty of big publications, including USA Today, Vice, Politico and Nylon Calculus. On Friday, he announced on Twitter that while he plans to continue his other writing work, he’s also taking on a new role as a contributing editor to new women’s sports site Excelle Sports. Megdal took the time for an e-mail Q+A about this move and the new site Friday afternoon. Here’s what he had to say:
Awful Announcing: How’d you first hear of Excelle Sports? How did you get involved with them?
Howard Megdal: I actually wrote this column over at USA Today Sports Weekly which discussed some of the institutional reasons women’s sports aren’t covered with the kind of depth or breadth men’s sports are, and Kim Donaldson, the CEO of Excelle, reached out to tell me about her startup, set to launch February 3. Women’s sports have been a greater focus of my work recently, so this was a perfect match between us. I’ve covered virtually every men’s sport there is, I’ll continue to do so, and I enjoy it immensely. But there are so many great stories in women’s sports equally worthy of coverage, and I’m thrilled I get a chance to do that more as well.
AA: What are the overall plans for the site once it hits its full launch? What sort of role will you play?
HM: The overall plans for the site are to cover, comprehensively and completely, the world of women’s sports. The editorial staff has the apparently subversive idea to treat the thousands of athletes and stories that happen to be about women the same way the sports media world treats those stories about men. I plan to focus, though not exclusively, on the worlds of women’s basketball and soccer. But there are deeply reported features and smaller slices of a story—an interesting stat, an emergence of a new player in a new role—that we will address regularly at Excelle Sports, both through our own work and by spotlighting the great work being done in disparate places on women’s sports all over the sports landscape. People can come to us: we will be a hub for such work, comprehensive and thorough.
AA: You mentioned you’ll have a focus on women’s basketball and soccer on Twitter. Why those sports in particular?
HM: The WNBA and NWSL are the two largest professional women’s leagues in the country, and accordingly, they both need focused, sustained coverage. The WNBA and NWSL are stories every day, in ways large and small, teams and rivalries, stars and role players, and the future players in both who can be found on high school, college and national teams the world over.
The WNBA is not just a story when a man says something foolish about it. The NWSL is not a story only during the Women’s World Cup. I intend to reflect that in my coverage. This is not to dismiss the many other sports and athletes our editorial staff will cover- just a recognition that even the worlds I intend to focus on are enormous and overstuffed with fascinating stories to tell, and I bring a level of familiarity and experience with both.
HM: There are obviously deeply-rooted reasons for the lack of coverage, from a lack of coverage legacy that dates back to before Title IX and therefore never changed all that much, to a reinforced idea that because there hasn’t been a consistent audience for women’s sports coverage because it is so seldom attempted. And in recent years, as women’s sports have grown exponentially, media budgets have been slashed, eliminating some of what little coverage already existed and discouraging new efforts.
And too often when it is, it happens with one-off stories that don’t find an audience because those who would wish to read it don’t know it is there, in an unfamiliar place, while regular readers of the outlet aren’t in the habit of following women’s sports. It’s akin to asking someone to read a novel in a foreign language without providing them the basic language itself.
When women’s sports are covered consistently and well, they develop and sustain an audience no differently than men’s sports. There’s no barrier there beyond how often and how enthusiastically (which is to say, money is invested allowing those who cover it not to do it on their own dime) it is attempted.
AA: Where do you see women’s sports coverage in general going? Is there a bigger audience for it out there?
HM: Well look: the audience is huge, it is growing, and this isn’t in dispute. The Women’s World Cup drew an enormous audience, not just the 26.7 million Americans who watched the final, but millions who watched the U.S. games leading up to the final, 2.33 million who watched the non-U.S. semis between Japan and England, and even group games on weekday afternoons that saw several hundred thousand tune in. More than 1.5 million people attended a WNBA game last year. The audience for Serena Williams is greater and consistent than for any men’s tennis player.
And this didn’t happen by accident. It happened because Fox promoted it like crazy, on shows across platforms, and just as important is how—focus on the players, on and off the field. By the time the tournament started, viewers had been informed enough to understand the basic text of the game itself. That’s ultimately media’s role, particularly within sports, and Excelle aims to bring more of that literacy to the vast realm of women’s sports, telling stories that aren’t getting told with enough frequency or urgency to allow the greatest women in sports the same accessibility in larger society. And that’s not about equality alone, though there are certainly value-added effects in such a change. It’s about giving sports fans greater access to a wider palette of stories, told well. There’s a ton of sports pleasures that are left behind every time women’s sports aren’t covered enough. We’ll do our part to try and change that.
The only real gap between enormous women’s events and those that don’t draw huge audiences are not question of sport importance, or of scope, or time of year or network. It’s the frequency and depth with which they are covered. UConn women’s hoops, which is covered like a major league by the area newspapers, is another example of this. It’s really that simple.
Even so, there’s been enormous growth across women’s sports, something I expect to continue, and I suspect in the not-too-distant future we’re all going to look back at the time finding basic information about women’s sports was difficult and laugh ruefully at the missed opportunity, the unserved audience ignored at the precise moment sports journalism needs eyeballs the most.