Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with Sideline Pass' Mia Jackson

Since joining the dark side of social media that’s called Twitter, Scribe has come across some fascinating people in the sports media community who engage directly with readers, viewers and listeners outside of their outlets. Though our observations range and some folks have bigger internet muscles than others, the engagement we have on Twitter has made for substantive and more often than not, smarter conversations about sports than any other time in the history of sports media.

On that note, you will see several interviews on Scribe in the coming weeks from people who not only have some good stories to tell, but I’d consider just good people. They have unique perspectives in the sports world that can help fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge, not just challenge previously held beliefs or hum a familiar beat.

The first interview in this series comes from someone I have been fortunate to get to know over the past 16 months beyond sports discussions. Mia Jackson is the proprietor of Sideline Pass, a website that speaks to female sports fans in a way that few others can. Recently, we conducted an email interview where the Stanford grad and still-proud member of Raider Nation talks about the site’s purpose, the importance of the ‘Hi Mom’ crowd and how some sponsors are dropping the ball when it comes to using sports to market women.

In advance, thanks, Mia!

Scribe: Sideline Pass has grown tremendously within the last year. Could you tell us about the site and a bit about your own background?

Mia Jackson: Sideline Pass gives the female fan a place to explore all areas of fanhood. There’s spirited discussion for the diehard fanatic who reads newspaper stats. There’s information for the newbie just learning about sports. And, there are the Cuties for fans who simply like to see the players on the field or court.

I’m a sports nut who’s also a businesswoman and mom. I’ve lived South, West and East, currently residing in the DC Metro. I’m a Stanford grad and so is my daughter, and I love the Cardinal. As the oldest of 6, with three athletic brothers and passionate sports parents, I had no choice but to learn to love the games.

I’m a member of the Raider Nation – often painfully but unapologetically and would love to learn how to build a winner from Eddie Robinson, leadership skills from Phil Jackson, team development skills from Bill Belichick and how to look cool from Tom Landry.

Scribe:  The About page tells us, “we watch the game differently than men but no less fervently and passionately”. While this may be very obvious to some, it’s not to others. How do women watch the game differently than men?

MJ: Many women fans are equally as passionate, engaged and excited about football as our male counterparts - some even more so. We’re fiercely loyal (just ask those diehard Cowboys fans in our stream). But I think at times our nurturing side takes over, especially when we are following a specific player that we like. For example, one of my Twitter friends is Favregirl – I don’t see a guy choosing that name.

Also, many of us are team moms, requiring us to focus on the whole team and the full realm of kids’ needs. I think many of us also enjoy the stories that accompany athletics; those tales of triumph that we can use as teaching examples.

Scribe: Based on the community the site has built, could you estimate the fandom among readers? How many would you say are ardent fans as yourself, how many are more casual and/or were relatively unfamiliar?

MJ: That’s hard to say. There’s a progression for some who are looking for a way into the games. I’d say the majority, 55% or so, are hardcore. About 25% are casual followers who enjoy the stories and maybe follow one team without expanding into the rest of the league. 20% or so would be the “my [husband/boyfriend/son/daughter] is a fan, so let me check this thing out”.

Jackson chatting with Cleveland Browns star Joshua Cribbs

Scribe: It’s common to see players waving to the cameras saluting their mothers after making a huge play or discussing the importance of their female guardians in their upbringing during sit-down interviews. Sideline Pass makes a point to talk to the “Hi Mom” crowd, guardians of active young athletes. What made you decide to target this group?

MJ: My sisters, cousins and friends are moms of young athletes and many of them are ignored by major vehicles. However, they often are the ones who are keeping teams on task.

Early on, I noticed that many of the women I interviewed were wearing many hats. For example, one LA mom, Jammie, broke down her job, showing us how detailed the task was – everything from monitoring weigh-ins, to maintaining paperwork to controlling playing time for each team player. It was an intricate, detailed process and many have no clue how much time it takes. And don’t forget the all important snacks!

Then there are the moms who are clueless, like one of my cousins, who had no idea how to manage her son’s high school career. In either case, there is a need for recognition and information.

Scribe:  For years, the NFL has made a push with growing its popularity among women. Yet its media partners and sponsors rarely, if at all, use football to appeal themselves to women as they do with men (example, every beer advertisement focuses on men bonding around the game). Is that something that is discussed within the Sideline Pass community?

MJ: Definitely. More specifically, other women who maintain sites or those who are in the business for a living are well-versed on the gap that exists in marketing. One blogger wrote, “If you believe Super Bowl commercials, women don’t: buy cars, buy tires, watch movies, register website domain names, … drink soda, drink beer, or eat snacks ….”

But I believe that they also show men as a monolith. "Men do laundry, and women watch the NFL," said Sue Rodin, managing director at Lead Dog Marketing, New York, and president of the national organization Women In Sports and Events. Proctor and Gamble is finally approaching the market in a new way, showcasing its Febreze and shampoo products – even if women still aren’t quite integrated enough into the ads it shows promise.

Leslie Wexner, founder and chairman of Limited Brands and one of the most successful marketers to women, says in Women Want More, “You can’t sell to women like they are men in skirts.” When I see a great ad, I speak on it, hopefully encouraging marketers to keep it up.

Scribe: You have some interesting angles for all things Sideline Pass both on and off the field. One of the features you show are the “Sideline Cuties”. Certainly, we’re all human and notice a looker wherever our eyes tell us to go. Not specific to the site, but do you think that for some fans, the looks of players is a major attractant to the sport itself? Why or why not?

MJ: Oh heck yeah! Why wouldn’t you – if only in appreciation of the time and attention these players put into their bodies? Guys do it all the time – Serena posts a new workout shot and Twitter goes wild. If I can see Hines Ward (one of my favorites) run a beautiful route that’s great. But when he looks fine doing it, that’s awesome. We post shirtless shots and women will comment quickly; they like it.

Jackson with Washington Redskins QB Donovan McNabb

Scribe:  You have been looking to expand the scope of Sideline Pass for a while, discussing other sports in the calendar at least through the associated social media accounts. Though the NFL is certainly the bread and butter for the site, how much interests have your readers shown in these other arenas?

MJ: I’m getting many requests for other sports, particularly basketball. Just yesterday, a woman fan told me that she needed her other B’s: basketball and boxing. This year we will add much more basketball to the mix – including the WNBA. We’ve also left it open for discussion on our Facebook page. College sports are big and the baseball fans really got into the playoffs this year. Bottom line, we’re game.

Scribe: There has been a tremendous uptick of interest in advanced statistics in football. It’s still an aspect of analysis that doesn’t get much attention save for diehards. Do you see this being incorporated in the future or do you feel that it’s something your readers can grab onto elsewhere?

MJ: I would love to bring in more, especially as the number of women engaged in fantasy football increases. According to Yahoo’s David Geller, the company is working to make its online fantasy football tools more appealing to women who now represent over 14% of its audience. “Not only is it fun, but it’s a bonding tool for many couples,” said Geller. That stat is a few years old and I’m certain that the number has only increased. We’re also chatting with companies like Thuuz.com, a new startup, to see where there’s synergy for the stats & facts driven sites and SidelinePass.com.

Scribe:  Finally, though Sideline Pass features great interviews with players, broadcasters and others involved with the NFL, you’ve had several outstanding interviews with women connected to the sports industry. While there are women in the ranks of these leagues and teams, they have faced tremendous resistance to reach them. Could you speak to some you may have faced in creating this forum and speaking to the female fan?

MJ: While there has been some resistance here or there, I’ve had overwhelmingly great experiences with the players and team officials. Where I find the most challenges are out in the field at times, with men who don’t believe women can have a voice in the game.

Recently, I went to a local sports bar and the discussion turned to the recent hit changes. One of the gentlemen said, “Excuse me but we don’t discuss football with women because you can’t understand it.” He asked me if I’d ever talked to anybody who really made those hits. Fortunately for me, I had – one Carl Eller, a member of the famed Minnesota Vikings Purple People Eaters. Then, as if on cue, a group of six women walked in the bar, in their sports gear, ready to catch the game. I couldn’t have scripted it better.

Just like in any other field, it takes time to remove barriers.. Most often, those barriers are imaginary, as they have little to nothing to do with actual ability. The number of men who follow us, ready my newsletter and comment on my Facebook page always surprises me. But then again, if they love football and they love women, what better place for them to be than sidelinepass.com?

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