Training camps for the National Football League’s 32 teams are abuzz with the preseason grunt and grind in the weeks leading up to kick off of the league’s 95th season, which opens in early September.
While at its core, professional football may still be a game, often played with childlike fervor and enjoyed by fans of adolescent behavior in the stands, make no mistake, it is BIG business.
Forbes magazine put the NFL’s net worth just north of $9 billion dollars before the 2013 season, making it a major heave of the pigskin beyond any other sports league on earth, in net worth. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has gone a step further, saying he wants even more – to reach $25 billion in annual revenues by 2027.
Realizing the male market has been saturated, the NFL has shifted emphasis in recent years, making major marketing passes at potential female fans. The strategy has scored big time. The gals have taken a rightful place and become players at least within the financial field, amid this game of blood and guts.
It has also helped somewhat that professional women have climbed, though a gradual a rung at a time, up football’s corporate ladder. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports says the number of women in management positions went up 30 percent last year.
Amy Trask was one of the most powerful figures in the NFL, hired in 1997 and becoming CEO of the Oakland Raiders. She resigned last year.
Charlotte Jones Anderson is chairman of the NFL Foundation and responsible for philanthropic efforts toward youth football, player care, and medical research. She also happens to be executive vice president and chief brand officer of the Dallas Cowboys, and daughter of team owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
Women have become a significant economic constituency for the NFL – making up half of the professional football’s fan base, the league says. Not only that, over 350,000 of them attend games during each of the 17 weekends.
Female fans who don’t make it to the game represent a significant audience from their spots at home on the couch, or at other locations on game day. The numbers cause advertisers to accommodate. The Nielsen TV ratings indicate that more women now watch the Super Bowl, than they do the Oscars. The ladies are no longer content to just sit on the sidelines, while the fellas have all the fun.
The NFL markets intensely to women, appealing to a sense of style as well as team loyalty. “Step into the Women’s Style Lounge for the latest clothing and customizable NFL gear for ladies,” the league urges at its NFL.com shopping portal.
It was actress Alyssa Milano who started her own line of flattering football fashions six years ago, called “Touch,” when she’d had enough frustration with the lack of team apparel options for women.
“I knew that women made up 50 percent of the attendance in sports,” Milano says, “and I figured if even 7 percent of those women wanted something, an alternative to either the big jersey, or the pink, then we’d be in good shape.” Her line now covers all major sports, including NASCAR.
Marketing efforts toward women this upcoming season could be more challenging for the NFL, in the wake of its recent decision to suspend Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice for two games, after allegedly assaulting his fiancé and now wife, and knocking her unconscious in an elevator in February. Some women’s groups says the punishment is too light and sends mixed signals about women’s standing with the league.
The NFL may not be relying on its new marketing strategies toward women as the sole play that will push the ball across that $25 billion goal line in the next 13 years. New broadcasting deals with multiple networks and possible league and season expansions could account for most of the added worth that will carry the league to financial victory. But as a new season begins, the league may wonder why it took so long for it to gameplan for the 70 to 80 percent of all consumer spending that its new female fan base is responsible for.