With Super Bowl weekend fast approaching, the annual media circus is churning out more pigskin-related articles than there are fans, which is why I stumbled upon a piece in USA Today's sports section on the rise of female football fans. Well, sort of. The focus of the article is actually on the rise of females buying NFL merchandise. (Apparently, we'll no longer sleep in our boyfriends' oversize jerseys -- we want our own cute Roethlisberger baby T's.) But despite the consumerist angle, the article makes it clear that female fans have become an undeniable force and are getting increased attention in sports marketing. USA Today reports that "women's gear generated about 15% of the NFL's $3.4 billion in total merchandise sales for the 2005 season compared with 3% in 2004." And as Shannon OToole, author of "Wedded to the Game: The Real Lives of NFL Women" (about the wives of football players) told USA Today, women currently account for 43 percent of NFL fans.
I'm not going to relay to you here how many times men have told me, "You know a lot about sports for a girl." But sports, they fail to realize, ain't about XY chromosomes -- it's about being part of the larger community that makes a team what it is. Broadsheet placed a call to longtime Steelers fan (and Broadsheet pal) Sara Culley to explain; being from Pittsburgh, she says, "you had to know your Steelers, it wasnt a gender thing."
When Culley watched her team beat the Broncos to make it all the way, she immediately began plotting how she would get into Super Bowl XL. She still doesn't have tickets, but she does have hope. "I'm thinking about posing as an ice sculptor," she says. Lucky for her, she has family in the ice-sculpting business (think six-foot ice footballs), so this fan's dream might come true. And does she own any merchandise? "One black No. 36 Bettis jersey. Two terrible towels, both of which have been grounded and have remained in my room since our three straight losses back in December. A stuffed Steeler football. A felt and magnetic Steeler dartboard " This isn't girl stuff, it's fan stuff.
Perhaps someday it will not be newsworthy to see a woman hounding the bartender for another round as even Larry Brown gives up on her team (sorry, it's been a bad week), but in the meantime, let it be known, we're in it for more than the jerseys.