Rule 1 In Speaking To Women Fans: Don't Alienate Women Fans
Last week the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made headlines across the sports world -- including on this site -- for announcing their initiative geared toward female fans. The campaign, RED, set out to "provide female Buccaneers fans with year-round educational experiences focused on providing a better understanding of the game." Events and content would focus on "game-day style tips" and advice on how female fans can incorporate "their passion for the Bucs into their other lifestyle interests such as tailgating and home entertaining."
So, what makes this problematic? Marketing to a female demographic is certainly a welcome sight after so many years of sports leagues pretending women don't exist. But the thing is, it's 2015 and women already make up 45 percent of NFL fans. Clearly, we're already invested in the game because we love the game.
Of course, a person (and that person doesn't have to be a woman) can love football and home decor and fashion. These aren't mutually exclusive passions, and the latter interests are nothing to scoff at. But this team's attempt to reach women assumes they don't know the game, and focuses its new audience outreach almost entirely on fashion and home decor conversation. By doing that, the team not only alienates the part of the female fan base that isn't interested in those subjects but also basically becomes the embodiment of all the outdated stereotypes about women.
What exactly do I mean? Well, the campaign's website launched a RED Term of the Week, which just made things worse. The first term? Play clock. Yes, the Bucs went there, explaining what every football fan -- male or female -- knows: "The play clock in the NFL is the amount of time a team has to run an offensive play before receiving a penalty." The post has since been deleted.
The site also featured a video interview with running back Doug Martin in which team reporter Casey Phillips opened with, "Tell me a little bit about the position you play, and some of the things that people might not know [about] what that means." Martin then went on to explain what a running back is.
It's nearly impossible to not view this as condescending. Women who identify as fans are already more than familiar with the function of a play clock and the responsibilities of a running back. For the Bucs to indicate otherwise is insulting.
With all that said, and even with the blatant mistakes made here, the Bucs and other NFL teams aren't wrong to want to increase female fandom and certainly shouldn't stop because of this misstep. Yes, women want their jerseys in flattering fits, and plenty of women love their fanicures. But instead of behaving as if female fans are interested only in coordinating their nail color with their jersey and tailgate spread, NFL teams should focus on hiring more women in high-profile positions, welcoming them into the coaching ranks, and highlighting their stories and those of female fans. Perhaps they could even take seriously the crimes against women committed by members of the league. Those are ways to win over female fans.
The Arizona Cardinals' hiring of Jen Welter as an assistant coaching intern for training camp has been welcome news and is certainly a positive step, but the league still has a long way to go before becoming a beacon of feminist ideals.
A 2014 Associated Press poll said 49 percent of Americans identified as professional football fans. And while that's a staggering number, it leaves a (slight) majority of those in the United States as an untapped market. Catering to a novice football audience isn't a bad thing, but there's no need or justification for it to be gendered. Call it Football for Beginners, and potentially attract both male and female football newbies. Problem solved, football execs!
The millions of women who follow the NFL should be treated like the knowledgeable, devoted fans we are. Sure, some of us might enjoy a good tailgate (me) and others might enjoy a team-themed dinner party. Those interests don't render us incapable of understanding the actual game, its rules and intricacies.
According to several studies, like this one, women make up the fastest-growing fan demographic the NFL has. Give us a little respect.