Women and Football: Popularity on the Rise

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Women and Football: Popularity on the Rise infographic

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Historically, American football is seen by many as a man’s game for male fans. Women are viewed as only a small part of the fan base, usually as the wives and daughters, not as enthusiasts in their own right. Since 2009, that stereotype has shifted as the popularity of football for women as increased significantly.

Women on the Sidelines

Between the years 2009 and 2013, female interest in NFL football rose by 26%, more than double the 10% increase among US men. During that same time period, women and men also showed greater interest in Sunday night football by about the same amount. For Thursday night games, growth was tremendous between 2012 and 2013: 32% for women and 21% for men. Of the more than 114 million Super Bowl viewers in 2015, almost half of them were women. These numbers outstripped female interest in the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards, stereotypically regarded as artistic and, thus, more attractive to females than sports. About half of all American women are football fans as opposed to 69% of American men according to a study by Ohio University. The number of official female football fan clubs is rising.

Female Fans Engage

Men and women cheer on their teams from the living room or they attend matches in person. Female attendance at college football games demonstrates a commitment to the game with about 57% of college females attending at least three college games, just a notch below the men’s statistic of 64% attendance on those same terms. The numbers show signs of equalizing.

Along with real football, females are more involved in fantasy football leagues than ever before. Data shows an increase from 20% to 34% between 2014 and 2015.

Certain teams report particularly high levels of female fan engagement including the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, and the Dallas Cowboys.

Women Play Football

At the high school level, more than 1,700 girls were playing 11-aside football during the 2013/2014 season. This number was up 12% from the previous season and a whopping 161% over the 1999/2000 season during which just 658 girls took part in high school football. While the data does not indicate a reason for this sharp increase, statistics are undeniable. Female interest has spiked and barriers are coming down.

A number of figures stand out from among their peers. Names like Reilly Fox, Evonnie Rmos, Brooke Liebsch, Erin Dimeglio, Mary Kate Smith, Tatum Koenig, and Lisa Spangler represent only a tiny portion of a talented pack at the high school level. At the college level, Brittany Ryan, Ashley Baker, Kate Hnida, Liz Heaston, KaLena Barnes, Tonya Butler, and Shelby Osborne stand out.

Some of these women made history. Barnes, a punter for the University of Nebraska, became the first woman on a top-ten team in 2000. Florida’s Erin Dimeglio was the first female quarterback in the history of that state’s varsity teams as recently as 2012. In 2003, Hnida became the first woman to score during an NCAA Division 1-A game. She was a placekicker for the University of New Mexico. There are many firsts represented on the list above.

These names are important because the women mentioned here could at some point represent US football at the professional level. The Women’s Football Alliance was formed in 2007 and features 45 teams. There are 38 teams in the Independent Women’s Football League as well. Both of these are professional leagues, and while numbers of viewers and level of interest do not compete with NFL statistics among men or women, women are playing a more significant role in the sport at least in the United States.

Women at the Higher Levels

With this growing involvement at both the fan and participation levels, there must also be room for women on the field in roles of authority and such women are in demand. The Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills have hired women in coaching capacities: Kathryn Smith is a Special Teams Coach for Buffalo and Jen Welter works for Arizona as an Assistant Coach. More officials are also female such as Sarah Thomas and Shannon Eastin. These are inroads in a male-dominated field, helped by the number of female team owners and executives who are women. Fans can expect to see more women taking similar roles in the future.

Three teams are owned outright by women: The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans. The Buffalo Bills are owned by a husband and wife. Mother and son Mark and Carol Davis co-own the Oakland Raider while the New York Giants are owned by multiple females from a single-family plus a male co-owner. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are owned by a sister-brother team.

As for those executives, several females hold positions with the NFL such as VPs in various departments, one is chief health and medical advisor, and another is the chief marketing officer for the NFL. The Vice President and Chief Brand Officer for the Dallas Cowboys and Chair of the NFL Foundation is Charlotte Jones Anderson. Note that there are many other positions of authority, all of them filled by men, but women are making names for themselves in American Football not just as fans but also in positions of authority and leadership where they know the sport at least as well as males in the same positions.

Marketing Opportunities

Football is a sport, but also a sales opportunity. Marketers know their consumers, and if they failed to create some sales tactics to attract females they would lose about half of their audience. Under Armour and Dick’s Sporting Goods have both created ad campaigns to attract female football fans specifically. The NFL wisely collaborated with Marie Claire Magazine to create an “Ultimate Fangirl Guide to Football.”

Special Attention for Women

In some cases, the fan base of a team is dominated by women. In honor of those statistics, those clubs have begun to offer women-only events. Activities include Ladies’ Night and a training camp where women go through the same moves players take part in when they prepare for game day.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Program

Ohio University, a leader in athletic education, established the first specialized academic sports program in the United States in 1966.

The online Master of Athletic Administration program is designed for professionals looking to advance their careers in athletic administration. Graduates are eligible for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. On average, students can complete the program in two years and develop the skills to run a successful interscholastic athletic department that meets the needs of student-athletes.