Given the stereotypes about "typical" NFL fans, it might be surprising that women make up about 45 percent of football fans. But as analysis by Vocativ shows, not all NFL teams are as successful as others in attracting female fans. So why is that? According to the data, it might just have something to do with whether they make sexist assumptions about women or not. Go figure.
Though most people think of football fans as male, two teams in the league actually have a female majority in their fan base according to Vocativ's numbers. The numbers are based on the teams' social media followings, which might not be the most precise way to measure it; overall, only 18 percent of the social media fans were women, a number which is significantly lower then other estimates (like the previously mentioned one pegging it at 45 percent). Still, going off of their Facebook and Twitter followers, it seems the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers seem to have a fan base that's around 50 to 60 percent women, which is pretty cool. So how did they do it? What are they or aren't they doing that's putting them so far ahead all the other NFL teams in terms of female fans?
Well, the trick seems to be — drum roll, please — treating your female fans like... well, fans, and a valued part of the fan community. The Steelers, for instance, host events like their popular "Women's Training Camp," where women can come to the practice field, drill actual football skills like passing and blocking, and then get autographs signed by players. The team also does things like publicly congratulate the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team on their World Cup win, showing their support for women's teams. Meanwhile, the Packers seem to have an active women's association that does a lot of charity work in conjunction with the team. Neither team has made any major sexist faux pas in recent memory.
Now let's contrast that with the two teams with the lowest percentage of female fans according to Vocativ's analysis: The Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets, both of whom have a fan base that is less than five percent female as indicated by their social media following. The Jets' record is decidedly mixed — they have a women's organization, and they've made gestures like congratulating the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team; however, they also are being sued by their cheerleaders over unfair wages, and there was a nasty incident in 2010 where sports journalist Ines Sainz alleged that she was sexually harassed in the locker room. Jets owner Woody Johnson apologized personally to Sainz for the incident.
Minnesota, meanwhile, simply doesn't seem to have made much of an effort to reach out to female fans.
Other teams whose fans are fewer than 10 percent female, at least on social media, include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the St. Louis Rams, and the Miami Dolphins. It's probably not coincidental that all three teams have behaved questionably with regards to women: The Bucanneers recently launched a sexist, patronizing initiative to attract female fans by teaching them the basics of the game, the Rams made a similar misstep on a smaller scale last year, and the Dolphins have been found to be pretty awful all around.
Basically, it seems like the way in which an NFL franchise treats their female fans, or how they treat women in general, has an impact on how many women want to root for the team. Color me surprised.
So, NFL teams, take some free advice from an actual female sports fan: If you want more women to like you (and you should want women to like you), don't approach us like we are an alien species, or like we're dumb, or as though we're nothing but a collection of stereotypes. Treat us like we are football fans, or potential football fans, who are also women. It's not actually all that hard once you try.