When you picture a sports fan, what comes to mind? A college guy drinking with his buddies while watching the game, maybe. Perhaps a bunch of male coworkers going to their home team’s game as a bonding activity. Or, your dad yelling at the TV when his team fumbles the ball.
Regardless of the age, situation, or anything else, one thing stays consistent: sports fans are male.
Unless you count the 45% of the NFL’s 2017 fan base that’s made up of women, a 10% increase since 2013. This comes at a time when the league’s overall viewership is actually shrinking; in 2016, Fox had its worst season since 2008.
Also in 2013, women made up 32% of the NHL’s fan base and 30% each for the MLB and the NBA. These women aren’t just tuning into sports games to ogle hot players or try to seem cool to their boyfriend’s friends. They’re real fans, who will get just as into the game as any male fan.
These women also buy the same products that marketers are already pushing towards men in ads during sports games. Beer, sports drinks, athletic apparel: they’re already spending money on it and could be persuaded to spend even more. But many in the sports industry haven’t taken them seriously.
Otherwise, why would the Dallas Mavericks host a class called, “NBA 101: Basketball for Women”?
As a marketer, I’m ashamed that this actually went through the entire marketing pipeline and went from crappy idea to crappy event. Seriously, not one single person stopped and said, “You know, this is a just a bit sexist.”
But no, apparently women have to be “educated” about basketball. And that education has to be done in an atmosphere where they can eat food and drool over players when they get bored learning about sports.
Marketers need to be aware of this stereotype, recognize that it’s wrong, and devise strategies to combat it. Sexism aside, it makes financial sense. Under Armour, for example, did a 2015 ad starring Misty Copeland that got over 10 million YouTube views in seven months. It also led the brand’s women’s business to increase by 60%, or $600 million.
I like to think of myself as a sports fan. I grew up in a Dallas Cowboys household and am also a huge supporter of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’ll yell at the TV when my team does stupid crap (which happens often as a Cowboys fan, believe me), disagree with the refs when they make an unfair call against my boys, and jump up and scream when we win. My cat probably still has nightmares from the last time the Penguins won the Stanley Cup and I grabbed him and spun in circles as I shrieked at the top my lungs.
I buy sports apparel, follow my teams on social media, and have news alerts for the games. My sister has three for each sport, actually: ESPN, each league, and each of her teams.
If you text me and ask for an update on the game, I’ll text back, “We’re up 35-31. 10 mins left in the third quarter. We’ve got the ball. On the opponent’s 20 yard line. 2nd down.” Not, “We’re winning :)”.
I do all of this, just like millions of other women across the country. The only difference is that marketers don’t think I like the game for any other reason than to impress some guy, so they don’t need to care about me.
Under Armour has $600 million that says otherwise. Other brands have begun to take note, but the entire industry needs to change its attitudes towards women in sports, both as fans and consumers.