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How the NFL Engages Female Fans and What Other Leagues Can Learn

Steve Shoup

The NFL shoulders a ton of responsibility.


The highest tier of American football is the most popular and lucrative of North America’s four major professional sports leagues. The NFL also finds itself a curious barometer on a number of social issues.


To understand why this is, consider the big tent that is the NFL audience. The league draws fans from every imaginable demographic. Few cultural touchstones in the US have the uniting force of the NFL.


Women play an enormous role in making the NFL what it is today. The league, once perceived as largely a “boys’ club,” has made tremendous strides drawing in female fans in recent years. In fact, women make up 45 percent of the NFL’s 150 million fans in the US.


Other sports leagues hoping to engage female fans can take a page from the NFL’s playbook.


For example, one way to address the very real issue of women’s sports lacking media coverage is for leagues to actively encourage women to view or participate in the sport they represent.


The NFL and teams take proven marketing avenues to reach female viewers, like offering extensive women’s apparel lines and sponsoring spreads in women’s magazines.


The league is a staunch advocate of women’s health causes and participates in Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October. Players wear pink in support of the cause, while a percentage of merchandise sales go to cancer research.


The NFL is also campaigning for more women to join its workforce.


Currently, about two-thirds of all jobs in the league are held by women. That number drops to 29 percent for women in executive positions.


Part of the NFL’s strategy to reduce the gender employment disparity is recruiting women to the boardroom and on-field operational roles—both areas traditionally dominated by men.


For the first time in history, women are taking on game-impacting jobs by becoming coaches, officials, scouts, and athletic trainers.


To be fair, other leagues are taking notice of the NFL’s trailblazing ways. Representatives from the MLB recently reached out to the NFL for advice on replicating their efforts to recruit female employees.



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