South Florida NYU Alumni holiday party. #TisTheSeason (at Chart House)
What does it mean to be a sports fan? The NFL might say that for women, it means little more than wearing the right outfit to the game. During the 2013 NFL playoffs, an article in The New York Times suggested that the recent growth in pro football’s female fan base (44 percent of NFL TV viewers are female, up from 34 percent in 2011) has a lot to do with consumerism, and more specifically, the league’s efforts to market logo-ed lingerie and pink gear to women.
Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that the NFL has further stepped up its efforts to market to women this season. Rhiannon Madden, the NFL’s director of consumer products, recently explained to Bloomberg Businessweek that the organization is trying to appeal to women—but not “patronize” them—by focusing on “expanded merchandise offerings and pop-up clothing boutiques at stadiums.” Judging by media coverage, dollars spent (according to the NFL, women’s apparel spending went up 76 percent in the last three years), and the much-talked-about football fashion spread in the September issue of Vogue, it would appear these efforts are working. (Though in 2011, Katie Baker smartly argued that the rise of female football fans more likely results from sports and popular culture increasingly blurring than it does from savvy NFL marketing efforts.)
I love a form-fitting, logo-emblazoned throwback blazer as much as the next gal. And it’s understandable that the NFL tries to boil female interest down to clichés—marketing, after all, is marketing. Yet the focus on merchandising both misses the real reasons women watch sports and forgoes an opportunity to engage them in far more meaningful—and for the NFL, lucrative—ways. If league execs spent as much time bettering the stadium and fan experience for women and families as they did contemplating how to get Condi to model her Browns jersey, pro football could win over more female fans, keep the avid ones it already has, and transform casual female consumers into lifelong, diehard fans.