Marketing to Women Sports Fans

June 26, 2011

I was catching up on some of my e-newsletter reading at the office when I came across this MediaPost column in my queue. In case you don’t feel like clicking through and reading the whole thing, the gist of the article is that women remain an untapped market for sports teams, that teams are often just scratching the surface of what it means to get females involved with their particular sport.

However, do females really need special marketing tactics? The advertising/marketing side of my brain says they absolutely do. But the sports fan side of my brain says no. The game should be what sells or creates fandom, not special marketing techniques. For example, ladies should be able to appreciate the finer points of a 5-on-3 penalty kill without having to be talked down to or reminded that the players are pretty when their helmets are off.

I do have complaints about three things the writer mentions (or doesn’t) in his column.

1. He neglects to mention the NHL as a major sport. I understand that for 95% of America, the NHL is just the sport played by some crazy Canadians with a few, good, honest Americans and no-good Russians thrown in. (And if this Nielsen poll is to be believed, America really doesn’t know it’s ass from a hockey puck when it comes to the NHL. Take a look at number 6 on the list to see what I mean.) However, I would think the most recent ratings from this year’s Cup Finals would have shown that the NHL is still alive and kicking.

2. Using Alyssa Milano’s apparel line as an example of connecting with female fans. While I do commend her for trying to make sports apparel more lady-friendly, it appears to lack some mass market appeal. Baby tees and form fitting shirts only appeal to certain ladies who can fit into them. If you don’t have the perfect body type, most ladies sports apparel is off-limits to you. And don’t even get me started on pink apparel, LOL.

3. Suggesting that women will pay more attention to the sport if we’re given more human interest features. This idea is both bad and good. On the bad side, everyone complains during the Olympics when we’re told the sad tale of woe of the athlete from Tralalalastan who survived brutal beatings, the death of his parents, the loss of a beloved dog and a cross country run barefoot to make the games. We all just want the story to end so we can watch the action. The stories will write themselves. What’s the old adage? Show not tell? Show me the competition so I can determine who to root for. Don’t tell me who to root for.

On the other hand, I know I have advocated that intermission breaks during Sabres games should include more of the human interest stuff. Will seeing team members visiting sick kids or palling around with Sabretooth create new fans? Probably not. But it does bring forth the personality of the players on the ice. And most of these players do have personality & character in spades. It’s a very fine line, I guess. You don’t want to alienate people by forcing them to root for the guy with the biggest sob story, but you also need to promote the guys on the field/ice.

I can completely sympathize with teams as they tackle this marketing conundrum. You don’t want to be patronizing, ignore women completely nor turn your players into pieces of meat for women to ogle. It’s situations like this that make you almost wish the product on the field/ice was enough to sell itself.


  1. It’s funny. I feel the opposite as you do. I love the Olympics FOR the human interest stories. For me, that’s part of what the Olympics are all about. When I’m watching the Sabres play, I’d rather see Kaleta punch Lucic right in his fat kisser and call his mom a whore.

  2. I think that the people in charge should worry less about marketing to women and more about not alienating women.

    As for the Olympics…it’s not that I dislike the human interest stories it’s just that I dislike how much time is given to them. Between human interest stuff and commercials Olympics broadcasts often spend very little time actually showing the sports. Cut down the number of special features and make them shorter so we can actually see these great feats of athletics. Because honestly, that’s the only reason the public cares about these people. That might sound harsh, but it’s true.

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