For Some Female Fans, the NFL Falls Short

by Adrienne Tooley

A stereotypical view of NFL games conjures images of men in face paint pounding beers and eating copious amounts of junk food, leaving their wives/girlfriends/families at home. But those generalizations can be squashed as women continue to grow as an important part of the sport’s fan base.

According to ESPN, 44 percent of NFL TV viewers are women, up from 34 percent in 2011. As far as getting more women in the stadium for game days, the NFL has been looking for ways to cash in on this demographic, offering pink, fitted team jerseys, pop up clothing boutiques, and a 24-page NFL spread in September’s issue of Marie Claire. It appears this marketing is working, as the NFL has seen an increase in revenue since such strategies were implemented.

However, some female fans are getting fed up with the way the corporation treats them: as consumers, looking to purchase merchandise, and wear pink jerseys, rather than focusing their attention on the game.

An article in The Atlantic by Shawnee Barton details the concerns some women have regarding the NFL’s treatment of their female fans. For one, the new “clear bag policy,” stating that fans must carry all items in the stadium in see-through bags made of plastic, PVC, or vinyl, and no larger than 12’ x 6” x 12” makes women feel discriminated against as soon as they enter the stands (don’t worry, ladies, you can buy an official NFL see-through bag with your favorite team’s logo starting at $9.95…)

An attempt to make entry into the stadium a faster process, this move from the NFL is misguided and sexist, according to Salon. The move makes women immediately uncomfortable, as the contents of their bags are on display for all to see. Who wants to display their feminine products, medication, and other personal items for 80,000 fans to see? Never mind fans with children trying to fit the contents of a diaper bag into a small clear bag. It’s also frustrating that the corporation uses this new rule to cajole women into buying official merchandise in response to a new rule created by the NFL itself. 

Another issue Barton raises in The Atlantic article is the issue of family safety at games. While many families would love to bring their small children to games, they do not feel it is always safe to do so. For fans that have been tailgating all day, by the time they pack themselves into the stadium, some have reached a level of inebriation that causes violent altercations. It’s difficult to feel comfortable bringing the kids when you never know if a brawl will break out over who was in front of who at the concession stand.

Here, Barton suggests the NFL sanction specific sections for families, where they can safely enjoy the game, and keep their kids away from fans who may not appreciate their presence either.

Barton also discusses the safety of the game and the way the NFL has handled the issue of player safety. She says that she and many other fans would feel much more comfortable with the sport (and encouraging their children to play), if the issue of fan safety was discussed more freely in open forums. 

But there are some stadiums and teams working to address these issues. The San Diego Chargers have a family-friendly tailgating section. The Green Bay Packers helped pass legislation aimed at preventing youth concussions, and the 49’s Levi Stadium is putting out an app to help patrons monitor bathroom and beer lines.

These are all good steps, but they are only from individual portions of the whole. Maybe if the NFL executive team employed a few more women (the NFL stadium security committee employs seven men and only one woman), they would be able to make changes across the board that would encourage a diversification of patronage, allowing women to be seen by the NFL as lifelong fans rather than momentary consumers carrying Ziploc bags of their belongings.

Thanks to The Atlantic, Salon, ESPN

Images courtesy of ESPN,, The New York Times

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