August 16, 2017 / By Sade Ayodele
Football is not only a man’s game. While there are twenty-two men on the field, there are plenty of women behind the scenes, on the sidelines, and in the stands, heavily invested in the game.
Take Beth Mowins. On Monday, September 11th, 2017, she is set to make history as the first woman to call an NFL game since 1987. Dawn Hudson made history when she became the first female CMO of the NFL in 2014. A league that a few years ago was completely male dominated now has two female coaches, two female officials, three female owners, and a female chief security officer; a small number, but at least a movement in the right direction.
In addition to the progress women are making as influential professionals across the league, the female fan is evolving and projecting a louder voice as well. Women make up an estimated 46 percent of the NFL’s more than 180 million American fans, representing the league’s biggest opportunity for growth (source: NFL).
This growing demographic of female fans is ripe for marketers — IF they learn how to speak to her. Currently, there are no NFL sponsors that are marketing exclusively to women beyond merchandise, leaving many women feeling like the NFL and its sponsor brands don’t understand the spectrum of female fandom.
While select brands, like our client partner P&G’s Secret deodorant, have taken notice of this void, marketing to female NFL fans has largely been dominated by retail partners like Alyssa Milano’s Touch brand, Dooney & Burke and Victoria’s Secret licensing NFL marks to produce more stylish merchandise, i.e. marketing by pulling at purse strings and vanity. While options for gear to showcase fandom are always popular and appreciated, it is almost exclusively the only expression of womanhood offered for NFL female fans — focused mainly on supporting their men in the most fashionable gear. Not addressing the other aspects of what it means to be a female fan reinforces the stereotype that women value style over substance.
It’s time to say goodbye to the days where connecting to female NFL fans simply means pink jerseys, team-branded bikinis, and bedazzled hats. Female NFL fans want to be treated like legitimate fans who wear authentic jerseys, are knowledgeable about players and the X’s and O’s of game strategy, and are fiercely loyal to their teams. This is not only illustrated by the growth of the female NFL fan base as a whole but those who describe themselves as “avid” fans. According to an ESPN Sports poll, 37 percent of “avid” NFL fans are women. The bottom line is respect; respect the fact that female fans are NFL fans who happen to be women.
Marketers can achieve this by portraying women in their sports creative as hard workers, overcomers, with an underdog mentality striving for success. Those are characteristics that make both men and women successful. Women haven’t been portrayed that way traditionally, let alone in sports advertising, meaning brands can find ways to appeal to both men and women in the same campaigns – it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.
If you are a young, female athlete or fan, you want to see yourself in these success stories. You want a role model. Having someone to look up to with whom you can align your goals is really inspiring and empowering. Obviously, gender-specific products require a different creative approach, but it is possible to create highly engaging campaigns that appeal to both genders.
The upside for brands to refocus their strategy against the female fan is huge. Not only will sentiment and brand reputation improve among female fans craving a narrative they can relate to, treating women as the true NFL fans they are is an opportunity for brands targeting a female audience because women are also categorized as the primary household purchaser. Some sponsors of major sports leagues already have pivoted their marketing efforts to appeal to female consumers, but there is much more yardage to gain on the football field to win women’s hearts, minds, and spending habits.
In an upcoming video, we’ll take a look at some of the brands successfully targeting the female NFL fan and outline some plays for brands who want to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.