The State of the Female NFL Fan: More Empowered Than Ever
By: The Football Girl | Posted: February 08, 2013
Every year, circa late July, the same types of antiquated articles get published. They sport headlines like, “Women do more than shop on Sundays,” or “Local mother of three tackles fantasy football.” Those stories might have a modicum of relevancy is it were, say, 1983.
Anyone with two eyes and a marginally functioning brain that has been to an NFL game, spent Sunday in sports bar, or has enough female friends, knows that women are a significant part of the NFL’s fan base. To be specific, 44% of NFL fans are women, and 60% of women consider themselves NFL fans, according to data from the NFL. (Those numbers are actually from the 2011-2012 season - expect an increase when new data is released.) Additionally, 5.8 million women play fantasy football, which equates to 20% of the fantasy market. (Again, new data released in the summer should reflect another bump this season.) While puff pieces on women caring about the NFL aren’t going to cause a concussion or anything, they don’t reflect modern football society.
The reality is there is whole community of websites marketed to female fans, including this one, that have succeeded not by being pink or offering recipes, but by providing useful and insightful football commentary. I can think of a slew of female writers – Jane McManus of ESPN New York, Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger, Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle, and Cindy Boren of the Washington Post, to name a few (there are so many others) – employed to cover teams and provide in-depth news and perspective. As for those of my gender employed by the league, well, that number even shocked me. There are SIXTY women employed either in the league office or by a team, with the title of vice-president or above. Maybe these are the ladies Beyoncé had in mind when she pondered, “Who run the world?”
Speaking of Beyoncé, she chose to perform at a Super Bowl that capped off a banner year for women.
I am often asked what the difference is between the way women and men process football. What are women looking for in particular? My belief is that the differences are miniscule; however, I would say women generally don’t cry foul on every play and they tend to seek out a good storyline. This season was chockfull of fascinating, inspirational ones. Most notably in Indianapolis, where head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, and hospitalized only to make a triumphant and emotional return late in the season and resume his duties. The comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson were remarkable to witness. And even Steelers fans may have developed a tear in anticipation of Ray Lewis’s final “squirrel” entrance onto the field of M&T Bank Stadium (although scientifically, it had to dry up once “Hot in Herre” started blasting). Between all of that, the amazing rookie QB class and an objectively close and dramatic Super Bowl, the chance of further female growth is a given.
There is even more to celebrate.
Coming out of “Hard Knocks: Miami Dolphins,” which aired during training camp it was a forgone conclusion that Lauren Tannehill would be most discussed female in NFL circles this season. Instead, adorable 9-year old Sam Gordon, a football phenom who dominated boys in her youth football league, captured our hearts. It was Gordon who posed for a Wheaties box, hung out with Colin Kaepernick and sat in Roger Goodell’s box during the Super Bowl.
And don’t forget about the glass that shattered when Shannon Eastin became the first female to officiate an NFL game. While this record may be tainted by the fact that she was a replacement, the path for other female referees has officially been carved.
Perhaps the most triumphant element of the 2012 season for not only woman, but all fans was the lack of silly scandals and overall drama. There was no Brett Favre phone, Rex Ryan tattoos, Spygate or Bountygate. Even Tim Tebow faded into relative obscurity late in the season, well, unless you watch a certain show on ESPN.
Us NFL fans who happen to be female should really cherish this season, not only for how special it was, but because our voice finally has a home. We should no longer be embarrassed to tell our girliest girlfriends about Andrew Luck’s latest miraculous comeback or chime in when an instant replay call is put up for discussion at a bar. We belong here. As the numbers reflect, the NFL would not be nearly what it is without us.
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