While the social aspect is a definite draw, another reason NFL football is the favorite spectator sport of females, with 30 percent choosing it -- which exceeds the percentage of women following Major League Baseball, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, and the National Basketball Association combined -- may be that its easier to become engrossed in it than in other sports.
The NFL has the shortest season, with just 17 weeks for the regular season, followed by three weeks of playoffs and finally the Super Bowl. This provides a certain every game matters mentality that fans take very seriously. The NBA and MLB, on the other hand, both have much longer seasons -- 82 and 162 games, respectively, which can make a fair-weather fan out of anyone. The NFL and its partners have taken notice of this incredible rise in women viewers and have made savvy changes in their marketing strategies (that in and of itself might have helped gain a few female fans). I can remember wanting to buy a John Elway commemorative jersey about eight years ago; not only were there no womens jerseys available, but the mens sizes, even small, fit more like blankets than jerseys. But in 2005, with the league selling more than $3.5 billion worth of licensed merchandise every year, Reebok, the NFLs official outfitter, decided to launch a new line of jerseys and apparel especially designed to fit women. In the first year alone, the womens line grossed more than $150 million, and today, womens apparel is the NFLs fastest-growing market, with six years of double-digit increases. Granted, there were a few bumps in the road along the way: Reebok first offered jerseys mostly in pink, which ultimately played down to most female fans. (I still stand firm in my belief that Jessica Simpson was booed at Texas Stadium not for being a distraction to Cowboys quarterback and her then-boyfriend Tony Romo but because she was wearing a pink jersey.) Quickly realizing the market that existed, though, Reebok expanded the female-fan gear line to include everything from jerseys, pullovers, and jackets to watches, handbags, and, yes, gentlemen, even panties. To coincide with the line, this past season, Reebok also aired a series of national commercials in conjunction with their Be a woman. Be a fan. campaign, which promoted the womens gear and the overall passion of females for football.
LIKE WITH ANYTHING, as the game rises in fan-base size and popularity, so does the demand. Along with the long-standing tradition of Monday Night Football, the NFL now has Sunday Night Football on NBC as well as the NFL Networks Thursday-night games, which begin in November. With this surge in games, revenues, and interest in the sport, more women have also become involved behind the scenes -- 60-plus female executives in the NFL (in league and team offices) now hold positions at the vice president level and above. Michele Tafoya, Andrea Kremer, Suzy Kolber, and Pam Oliver are all accomplished sideline reporters who have become mainstays with fans, coaches, and players alike. And with the aspects of the game changing and growing more competitive every year, the NFL estimates that more than 10,000 women are attending NFL 101 Workshops -- which cover life in the NFL, the history of football, strategy, equipment, and officiating -- every season.
But knowledge is power, and now the NFL is going after women for something else: to actually play the game. In order to accomplish this goal, last year the league launched the Girls Flag Football program out of its Youth Football department. Its one of the newest ways we are reaching out to women and trying to grow our female fan base, says Joanna Hunter, an NFL spokeswoman.
Ten U.S. cities have been identified as hotbeds for girls flag-football recreational play, and through this program, girls who are considered leaders in these flag- football communities will become pioneers of the sport by introducing girls flag football into high schools across the country. Ultimately, the goal is for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to recognize girls flag football as a sanctioned college sport -- which the NFL feels is very reachable due to the growing demand for the sport.
Whether the NFL can actually succeed in attaining this goal is anyones guess. We cant predict the future. But one thing we can say: Buy us a beer, boys; were here to stay.