Women are cheering from your bleachers and joining your fantasy leagues. They have a big say in ticket and merchandise sales. And, according to 2014 Neilsen statistics, 35 percent of fans in the MLB, NBA and NHL are women. “The NFL’s viewing audience is even higher at about 48 percent female,” says Liz Loza, a fantasy football analyst for Yahoo Sports, noting that women’s participation in fantasy sports jumped to 34 percent in 2015.
While organizations may see their female fans sitting in the risers, they have not fully learned how to engage them. Last year, for example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers launched a program called RED and faced much criticism online and in the media over content aimed at females. (Offerings leaned toward fashion, recipes and painfully basic football education.) Kate Morrison, a Dallas-based sports writer, recalls the Charleston RiverDogs’ breast cancer awareness campaign last year. It featured a limited-edition “Bobble Boobs” bobblehead. “It was not even a figure of a woman. It was just boobies on a spring,” says Morrison.
For organizations hoping to better connect with female fans, here are some leading practices.
Hire women at all levels of your organization.
Managing roles are primarily male-dominated, which is why “Bobble Boobs”-style missteps continue, Morrison says. “If from the very beginning you have women in positions of communication and authority, you’re going to end up with a product that is more appealing to women in general,” she says. The industry is bound to benefit from a string of recent firsts, including female coach hires (Kathryn Smith at the Buffalo Bills) and top management (Kim Ng, the MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations).
Appreciate the complexity of the female fan base.
Women often complain about being stereotyped as uncommitted, uninformed fans who only show up “to drink colorful drinks and look at guys in tight pants,” says Morrison. Teams need to understand that women can be hard-core fans, casual fans or “bandwagoners,” says Morrison, just as men can.
Create compelling content.
Look around and you’ll find plenty of content experimentation. Launched in 2014, 5 Points Blue is the NFL’s first content marketing and events platform operated by female employees with the Dallas Cowboys. Loza, who ultimately caught the attention of Yahoo Sports, launched thefantasyfootballgirl.com, a go-to site for female fantasy football fans, in 2009.
MLB’s involvement with the new Fox series “Pitch,” a fictional tale of the league’s first female player, is another example. Elevated by unprecedented access to real-life MLB venues and personalities, the show may help the league attract new followers.
Design substantive events.
Mary Ann Moyer, director of community initiatives for the Philadelphia Phillies, says the team “tiptoed in” 11 years ago with an experience called Baseball 101 (shown left). Now the biannual event sells out to 140 women who rotate through coaching clinics and Q&A sessions, and then experience a home game.
Provide better women’s fan apparel.
The idea here is to move away from old “pink it and shrink it” approach. “Making everything pink and putting glitter on it doesn’t always work for women who are not 12,” quips Loza. The NFL put in lots of effort here, kicking off new collaborations in 2011 with Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Marchesa. It’s a fast-growing market segment, and Loza says there’s room for improvement across all leagues.
Demonstrate action around sensitive issues.
Polls suggest female fans (and also men) are concerned about social issues like player safety, domestic violence and sexism. One way organizations can connect with fans is by listening and enacting change. Examples here include the Edmonton Oilers, which has a co-ed ice crew dressed in comfy clothing, and NFL teams promoting the adoption of youth concussion laws a few years ago across the United States.
What Do Women Want?
When it comes to stadium experiences, researchers agree female fans look for a range of practical amenities to make life easier. These include:
Security: Well-trained and proactive ushers and security personnel; well-lit parking lots and public spaces; easy-to-use security apps
Family-friendly: Nearby parking; stroller parking; well-equipped family washrooms; apps to provide status on washroom and food vendor lineups; policies allowing families to carry in personal necessities like sippy cups, snacks and diapers
Shopping: Well-designed merchandise and apparel for women; no surcharge on women’s fan apparel; apps for in-seat shopping
F&B options: Alcoholic beverage options other than beer; healthier food and concessions