Hold your tongue. Breathe. Breathe. Do NOT, I tell myself, go off on this man. I somehow manage to hold it together in the wake of suffering what I consider an enormous indignity. I have just been told, for probably the 5th time, that I know a lot about football… “FOR A GIRL!” It is obvious that this perpetrator, no less than an octogenarian, meant his remark as a compliment, and so I allow him to slide.
I must confess others have not been so lucky. While I’m at it, there’s more…
Confession 1: I spend more time thinking about sports than I probably should.
To the casual observer I may appear to be a young woman completely focused on studying for her next Political Science Boss Battle, but there is always a small (although active) part of my brain wondering, “How’s my bracket doing? Will they trade him or not? How does our defense measure up?” Sports provide an outlet for me, a necessary diversion from the sometimes stressful life of a U of M freshman.
Confession 2: I come by it honestly.
How did I get to be this way? As they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree. As my father’s second daughter (of only two children) fate decided that I would spend my childhood on the field (or the bench) and in the stands.
At an early age I was often dressed in Maize and Blue and brought to The Big House to cheer on the Michigan football team. Like many of my male counterparts on those wonderful fall Saturdays, I learned about teamwork, about strategy, and I learned to love the thrill of the sports experience.
Confession 3: But I am not the only one…
The demographic of a typical sports fan is changing. Let’s take a look at the stats:
- Female viewership of NFL games is up 26% (read more here)
- We make up 40% of the NASCAR fan base
- 46% of self-identified MLB fans are female
- 89 Million U.S. women identify themselves as college sports fans
The trend is clear, there are an increasing number of women sports fans. At recent Michigan basketball and hockey games, women fans were well represented. Like me, the female fans were spirited, engaged and enjoying every minute of the action.
Of course the strongest evidence of the growing female fan base is in the growing retailer and advertiser interest in this demographic. Speaking at the Sports Business Journal’s Game Changers Conference in 2013, Indra Noovi, PepsiCo Chairman and CEO, stated “We all know that women’s interest in sports has been increasing at an unbelievable rate over the past four decades. Women are not only playing more sports, they’re also increasingly participating as fans. ” As illustrated in this video about licensed collegiate apparel, the buying power of female fans is not going unnoticed.
What factors are driving the increase in women sports fans?
- The percentage of women in the workforce has grown from 35% in 1970 to 59% today. The older gentleman mentioned earlier in this post has undoubtedly experienced life and gender roles very differently from our current generation. Women continue to make strides, achieving higher levels in their careers, breaking down barriers for those of us just starting our journey. But, with additional job responsibilities comes additional pressure and additional need to recreate. Bartlett Giamatti, a former MLB Commissioner points out in “Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games”, that “Leisure, engaged in either as participant or as spectator (and there have always been both, each existing for the other in a mysterious bond of energy, resentment, and awe), is that form of non-work activity felt to be chosen, not imposed.” Women have earned their leisure time and, in increasing frequency, choose to fill it by following sports.
- The participation of women in sports has risen a whopping 1000% over the past 40 years. Paving the way was a landmark piece of legislation signed into law by President Nixon in 1972. Title IX of the Educational Amendments stated:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Although not specifically drafted for this purpose, the law has been credited for providing women and girls equal opportunity to participate and compete in sports. A great perspective shared by UM’s winningest coach (Women’softball), Carol Hutchins, illustrates how Title IX has “changed the game” for her and other female athletes over the past 40 years. It seems reasonable to make the connection that women who play sports, develop a love for sports.
We may yell at the refs in a higher pitch, hug a little more after a big win, and visit the stadium/arena bathrooms together, but have no doubt, after coming so far in the world of sports, we’re here to stay.
See you in the stands!