Pop quiz: What was the most watched TV event among women in 2014? It wasn’t the Academy Awards. Or the Grammys. Or the season finale of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It was Super Bowl XLVIII, watched by an average of 44.9 million women. Overall, they make up 46 percent of all NFL fans, and an average 63 percent of women 12 and older identify as fans.
Despite those numbers, the concept of the “female fan” is still relatively new—at least as far as marketers are concerned. But over the past few years, there’s been a distinct change in the way those women are being spoken to by brands. Gone are the days of “pink it and shrink it”; now, women are being treated like the valuable untapped market that they are.
“About five years ago, we did an inventory of all our offerings [for women],” said the NFL’s director of apparel Rhiannon Madden. “We had a growing female fanbase who were just as avid as the male fans, but we weren’t giving them the best outlet to express their fandom.”
The NFL worked to create more sophisticated offerings for women, like vintage-inspired tees and apparel, more plus-size and juniors apparel, and a full line of women’s-size jerseys. Today, of the 200-plus New York Giants women’s T-shirts available on NFLShop.com, only about 10 are pink—and many of those support breast cancer awareness.
Women’s media is also stepping up its game. Marie Claire has been one of the strongest supporters of female NFL fans. Last year, the magazine debuted a 16-page section titled “The Ultimate Fangirl’s Guide to Football,” copies of which were distributed in the style lounges of stadiums. In its September 2014 issue, Marie Claire is revisiting the Fangirl’s Guide with a new booklet highlighting real women’s NFL game-day rituals. Next month’s issue will include a pull-out poster featuring the new NFL Thursday night schedule.
According to Marie Claire publisher Nancy Cardone, the the Fangirl’s Guide was inspired by the title’s own staff. “On Monday mornings, the watercooler conversation would be what happened at the game the night before,” she said. “A few of us even kill it in our fantasy leagues,” added editor in chief Anne Fulenwider. “One staffer is her league’s commissioner.”
The magazine was careful not to speak down to its readers in its editorial content—a common problem in female-targeted sports coverage—and instead treated them like, well, fans (fans who might be interested in NFL-inspired nail art, that is).
Both Marie Claire inserts are sponsored exclusively by the NFL, featuring its “Together We Make Football” campaign. Celebrity NFL fans like singer Jordin Sparks and model Erin Heatherton are showcased sporting team apparel.
“The NFL’s focus on making the apparel much more modern and fashionable has really showed up in their creative, so you feel like you can identify with what they’re wearing,” said Cardone. “It’s very authentic.”