The Female Fan: The NFL's Biggest Domestic Growth Market

A driving force behind the future of women in the NFL, Charlotte Jones Anderson. - Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

With the male fan base fairly well saturated, the NFL is gearing more and more efforts to draw women into the game. Its even rumored that Blogging The Boys might have a female writer on staff.

In a recent post at Refinery29.com, columnist Vanessa Golembewski opened her post with the following statement:

Since its inception in 1920, the NFL has been a man's game. Just look at any sitcom; the scenario is always the same: A working knowledge of the game seems necessary for that legendary "man card." These same shows portray women as having (at best) a marginal relationship with the biggest sport in America. Not only are they excluded from the football festivities, but these fictional portrayals show women who are bitter about their husbands' obsession with the game. And, I think I speak for female football fans everywhere when I say, "Well, that's a bunch of bullsh*t."

My thoughts exactly, Vanessa.

At least on the domestic front, the female marketplace is the last untapped market for the NFL to grow its fanbase. Since market studies indicate that women influence nearly 70% of all purchases, it may be the most lucrative as well. According to Pete O'Riley, who is the league's Vice President of Fan Strategy/Marketing, the NFL is showing considerable success in growing its base among women. Among other things, the league, in the last few years, has expanded its merchandising strategy to target the female marketplace. Included in this is a full line of apparel designed for women. This line includes products covering the entire spectrum from juniors sizes to maternity wear. They have also added  a special section of their website, www.nfl.com/women, just for us.

Ever the salesman, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was quick to embrace the market. (Don't tell Gene, OK?)

At Cowboys Stadium, fans can buy a standing golf bag, a Kobe beef burger and thong underwear emblazoned with the team’s star logo.

Displayed alongside lacy sports bras and flared sweat pants, Cowboys underwear is one of many offerings at the stadium’s Victoria’s Secret Pink store, the first to open inside a sports complex.

His daughter, the Cowboys Chief Brand Officer, Charlotte Jones Anderson, pushed extensively to include Victoria's Secret in AT&T Stadium strictly to enhance the team's exposure to the female fan.

"We clearly get that our female fans are our consumers. They’re really the ones that make our business tick." - Charlotte Jones Anderson

The league knows exactly what it is doing. We have all seen the recent efforts to support breast cancer awareness month, including the pink ribbon on the field, and the players, coaches, and officials wearing pink accessories during that time span, but the efforts go much deeper. Where once the basic marketing philosophy was "Pink It & Shrink It", the NFL has now adopted a more subtle approach. They realize that most of us want to be just like the male fans, not a "babydoll" in the stands.

"I want to wear the colors of the team — I don’t want to wear a softened up version of it." - life long football fan Kerry Ann Sullivan

The league is listening, and taking the feedback to heart. With the Super Bowl drawing more female viewers than the Grammys and Oscars combined, the NFL knows the goldmine they are setting on and their marketing efforts are being rewarded. Since January 1st of this year, the top five most-searched jerseys on the internet have been for women.

While we know that we are not the biggest source of fans for the game, we are the biggest growing market. With that growth comes more involvement in the game. The days when a female reporter was just "a pretty face" on the sidelines are fading fast. More and more women are covering the league as true journalists. Moving beyond the "sideline reporter" we find women like Cowboys beat reporter Charean Williams of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, who make their living getting down to the nuts and bolts of the NFL. Even though we are, and will always be a minority among fans, the "female football fan" is here to stay.

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