I KNOW, I KNOW, women are totally equal to men and can love football just as much as men do, and I know those women exist and some of those women are actually my friends, but if we’re going to be honest for a second, without all the politically-correct stuff, women tend to be less interested in football than their male friends or significant others. Or so that’s the general stereotype. This past Sunday, as I was miraculously taking a gander at the television while making myself a cocktail during football, I noticed a commercial aired during game time that was very clearly targeted towards women, leagues away from the generic pick-up truck commercials that usually fill the time slot. Now, I can’t remember said commercial (due to aforementioned cocktail), but with the juggernaut ratings that football brings in every Sunday and Monday, it’s glaringly obvious that women are much more involved in watching football than ever before. Maybe we don’t have to be so politically correct anymore? Maybe I’m the one holding onto an antiquated image of women’s interest in entertainment?
I’m not going to be so hard on myself. In the last five years, two major things have surged in football to make it more entertaining to the masses: Fantasy Football and the Hard Knocks series on HBO, giving women a competitive edge and emotional investment into the sport. Both are very different and attract two different kinds of female fans — one that is very competitive but doesn’t necessarily require an emotional attachment to the sport and the other which targets women’s emotional attachment by building stories around teams. Either way, these new developments in football culture give an edge to the female fan base that makes women far more valuable than ever before.
Fantasy Football appeals to anyone who is competitive and women can be incredibly competitive — I mean, we’re humans too, right — and often in a more cutthroat way than men. Need we revisit every high school clique movie of the last 25 years? In Fantasy Football, I believe women have more of an edge because they’re not clouded by the deep loyalty they have to the team they grew up with or the player they used to love — their emotions are truly unbiased and therefore, they will take no prisoners. They’re making their choices on purely statistical, fact-based information. It’s all very Nate Silver a là 2012 Presidential election. The fan-boy male population is Mitt Romney, convinced that a positive attitude and strong chant can get them the W, whereas the female Fantasy Football fans are the Barack Obamas of football: conducting their campaign on hard evidence of statistical information. And we all know how that turned out.
The other angle that is appealing for women (and the complete opposite of the previous one just discussed, ironically) is the truly emotional, empathetic side of the sport: Hard Knocks, a docu-style television series on HBO that follows one football team throughout their entire season and plays out in time with the season. To be honest, that’s how I started to care about football. The first season featured the Jets and I am from New York (but not from a football family). I watched every episode and fell in love with their struggle, so I just decided that would be my team. Each week and each and every episode, the highs and lows are so dramatic that it’s impossible not to feel for the featured team and their journey. Then, come Sunday, you’re watching football really hoping that the huge linebacker who was called up from the bench the week before manages to pull off a game-changing block or whatever that makes him a shoe-in for the position next week — after all, he has his sick mother at home whose bills he has to pay for and his performance secures that for them. I mean, talk about a tearjerker. The only downside? Each season you may fall in love with a new team. Then you definitely can’t join a Fantasy league.
Football used to be a sport that was imagined (and maybe even designed) to be exclusively for men’s entertainment. However, from week to week, the ratings for the NFL are so strong, blowing any other content out of the water, it becomes hard to imagine that men and boys are the only people watching football anymore. In fact, according to an article in the Boston Globe, about 48% of the audience watching football now is female. So advertisers, I appreciate your female-targeted commercials during football because, while I’m waiting every week for Miami’s big comeback because of Hard Knocks, I know the competitive nature of my female peers is enjoying your acknowledgment as they slaughter their male counterparts week to week in their fantasy leagues.