SPECIAL REPORT: SPORTS BEYOND THE MAINSTREAM
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Masculine adventure programming is getting a little less macho.
The genre, named for the he-man pursuits of hunting, fishing and gunplay, has been a staple of outdoor lifestyle networks for years, largely characterized by shows like Sportsman Channel’s Aporkalypse, guest-starring uber-man’s man Ted Nugent wielding automatic weapons to shoot pigs from helicopters.
While those shows aren’t going away anytime soon, they are sharing the schedule more and more with shows that are not only hosted by women — like Sportsman Channel’s Destination Whitetail with Maxim cover girl Brittany Glaze and The Most Wanted List with three women at the helm — but also increasingly emphasize themes that cater to the new audience.
MAJOR ECONOMIC FORCE
Driving the change is the fact that women are becoming a major economic force in the outdoor game. The number of women hunters in the U.S. rose 85% between 2001 and 2013, from 1.8 million to 3.3 million, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In addition, about 19% of all hunters in 2013 were women, almost double the 10% in 2001.
Perhaps more importantly, women constitute a growing economic force when it comes to firearm purchases. Firearm retailers estimated that 20% of their 2013 shooting- and hunting-related sales were attributed to women, up from 15% in 2010, the NSSF said.
Women historically have comprised about 25% of the audience for pay TV’s three largest outdoor lifestyle networks — Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network, all owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’s Outdoor Sportsman Group — noted networks CEO Jim Liberatore. While they’ve always been an important part of the mix, he added, it was only in the past few years that more outdoor shows began to reflect that.
“We are actively looking at an overall strategy to explain the lifestyle to people,” Liberatore said. “We think that will attract both men and women.”
“A lot of girls are raised going out hunting with dad and obviously grow up to be women interested in this space,” Liberatore added. “To me, we can attract women by telling the story of the lifestyle. We understand that compelling programming is first and the story it tells is second.”
Protection is the No. 1 reason why most women purchase firearms, according to the NSSF. At the Outdoor Sportsman Group, the goal is to show that owning a weapon also can be fun.
“Those are the things we want to try get our arms around,” Liberatore said. “The rest of the story is conservation, environmental, game management.”
That is reflected in several shows across all three networks. For example, Outdoor Channel has Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures, featuring noted conservationist, hunter and wildlife photographer Jim Shockey and his daughter Eva Shockey, Under Armour and Cabela's brand ambassador; CRUSH With Lee & Tiffany, featuring husband-and-wife hunting team Lee and Tiffany Lakosky; Driven With Pat and Nicole, starring married hunters Pat and Nicole Reeve; and NRA All Access, starring sharpshooter Jessie Duff.
On Sportsman Channel, which is geared more toward instructional shows, in addition to Destination Whitetail and The Most Wanted List (hosted by American Idol top 10 finalist Kristi Lee Cook, Jessi Jo Lee Stanfill and Jess Hull) there is Winchester Deadly Passion, hosted by Melissa Bachmann. Even the World Fishing Network has gotten in on the act, with Hookin’ Up With Mariko Izumi, a travel and fishing series hosted by the daughter of professional angler Wayne Izumi and niece of Bob Izumi, host of long-running Canadian fishing show Real Fishing.
Liberatore added that the strategy is not to simply air shows that replace male hunters with female hunters. But, he said, using lessons learned from non-hunting shows like Jim Shockey’s Uncharted, in which the noted conservationist explores the edges of the known world; Guntucky, a reality series about a family-owned gun range, from the producers of Pawn Stars, and movies on the networks, they can produce programming that will appeal to a different audience.
“We’ll be promoting shows that we think they’ll be more interested in and that takes them more into the lifestyle.”
To that aim, Outdoor is looking to add some scripted shows — and at least one theatrical/made-for-TV movie — centered on themes more compelling to women.
“We understand that the way to be mainstream is to create programming that the mainstream audience wants to see,” Liberatore said. “There are 130 million people in our space, that’s more than golf and tennis combined. It’s not like we feel the space isn’t enough to sustain what we’re doing, but we certainly want to grow and expose people to the lifestyle and the channel.”
Liberatore gave few details, but he added the scripted series is a drama with a female lead with outdoor lifestyle themes. The movies, he added will weave in conservation and hunting themes through broader plots.
The shift is also resonating with advertisers. The new Outdoor Sportsman Group entity declined to give details on advertising growth, but said the networks have been “enthusiastically received” and that it has “many new advertisers.”
The bulk of the Outdoor group’s ad revenue comes from endemic sources, equipment and gear makers that have products directly related to the shows they advertise on.
While endemic advertisers and sponsors have long been associated with women hosts like Eva Shockey (Under Armour, Cabela's), nonendemic sources like carmakers and insurance companies are also beginning to see the benefits of getting their message out to those audiences. Liberatore said about 40% of the group’s advertising comes from nonendemic sources.
GETTING BROADER FOR GROWTH
“As we grow, we can’t live inside the endemic space,” Liberatore said. “It goes up and down as the business goes up and down. We’re intentionally trying to reach out to different brands.”
That doesn’t mean outdoor-focused advertisers aren’t participating in the growing trends. Realtree, a maker of outdoor apparel, has been an advertiser with Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel for several years, said in a statement that its participation has been based on “realizing the importance of family to the continuation of our outdoor heritage.”
Realtree spokesman Dodd Clifton said in the statement: “The dramatic increase in the participation of women in the outdoors in recent years can be attributed to several things: great work by conservation and sporting groups to teach and encourage women, manufacturers and retailers offering gear that’s better suited to women’s needs, the movement to get kids off the couch and into the great outdoors, and the efforts of media brands, such as Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel, to show women and families just how enjoyable getting outdoors can be.”
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