In the last few weeks I’ve noticed more and more Pinterest users (all women) repinning my Super Bowl party ideas. It shows me that women are gearing up for the Super Bowl just as much as avid male fans. I imagine many of these ‘avid’ fans would argue that just because someone is interested in Super Bowl party ideas or recipes, doesn’t mean they’re truly a fan of the game. There may be some validity to that, but from my personal experience – as both a football fan and the NFL’s social media manager - there is a wide range of fandom across both genders.
Working for the NFL has been a dream come true for me. You see, I have been a football fan all of my life. My father, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame, is a die-hard Fighting Irish fan. His love for Notre Dame Football was transferred to my mom, my siblings, and me. I often tell people, “I’ve been going to games since I was in the womb,” to help illustrate the point that football is in my blood. Autumn Saturdays meant that Notre Dame was playing; if my family wasn’t at the game, we were watching it on TV – shouting at the screen just as loudly as we would have if we were in the stands. We screamed at the defense, hollered at the offense, yelled at the refs, and cheered the special teams.
When my family did have the opportunity to attend a home game in South Bend, I was on cloud nine. Even as a young girl, I knew there was something special about seeing generations of fans coming together to support their gridiron team. The roar of the stadium as the team ran through the tunnel, the harmony of fans’ cheers and chants throughout the game, and the echoing fight song by the marching band, all had a profound impact on me. It is those memories that helped shape my view of the game; football is not just for guys - it is for everyone.
Me and my father at Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis
Whatever the barometer for fandom is, I think we can finally eliminate the assumption that women don’t know or care about football. With 45% of NFL fans now women, a xy chromosome is obviously not a prerequisite to loving the game. ( In fact in recent years, 60 percent of females over the age of 12 identifying themselves as NFL fans. Last season, 80 million women watched NFL games and roughly 310,000 women attended NFL games each weekend.) I see women in stadiums, at sports bars, on Twitter and Facebook, wildly cheering and jeering for their favorite teams and players.Fans connect to football on a variety of levels, and since being the fan of a team may be the longest relationship some people have, it’s a serious commitment.
I grew up in Chicago, where everyone is a Chicago Bears fan, including my grandmother. Although she may have not known all the players’ names, team stats, or football terminology, my grandmother still watched or listened to Bears games whenever she could. She had a ‘personal tie’ to the team. According to her, our family was related to Mike Ditka, the infamous Chicago Bears’ coach. Taped to her refrigerator, was a Chicago Tribune article about Ditka and his Ukrainian heritage. A proud Ukrainian herself, she always made sure we (her grandkids) knew our great-grandmother’s maiden name was Ditka (or Dyczko), and therefore Coach Ditka had to be a relative. Despite having no proof of our supposed family ties, my grandmother still followed the Bears, demonstrating to me that if she can be a football fan, anyone can.
Since all of the women in my family love watching football, I believed it was completely normal for girls to be fans of the game. Why wouldn’t I? But after college, I moved to NYC and realized my love of football wasn’t shared by everyone, particularly new female friends. When I wanted to catch a Notre Dame or Bears game on the weekend – many of these girls couldn’t comprehend how I could devote an entire afternoon to watching a game on TV. Despite their disinterest (which I found difficult to comprehend), I knew that my mom, grandmother, sister and I weren’t the only women who loved football.
When I started to work for the NFL, I finally found my tribe of female football fans. The talented women in our organization – from established executives to fresh-out-of-college assistants – have very similar stories about how they became fans. It may have started with their dad or brother, but the many hours and weekends spent cheering on a favorite college or pro team was as much a part of their childhood as playing dress-up or kickball. Bonds were created, allegiances forged, and wonderful memories indelibly seared in their minds. Like Pavlov, entering a football stadium or seeing a game on TV instantly brings me to a happy place. It’s a chance to hoot and holler, support my team, and continue a tradition that I hope one day to pass onto my daughters.
I’m now in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII (one of the many perks of my job). It will be a great match-up between two great teams; the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. My sister is joining me for the game. Not sure if you could find two bigger football fans anywhere – male or female.
Last year, I had the immense privilege of attending Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis with my Dad, and it was the experience of a lifetime. The energy leading up to the big game was exceptionally palpable - outrageous parties, cool concerts, big celebrities, and football legends taking over central Indianapolis. Even with all of the hoopla, one of the great things that stood out to me was seeing so many female fans, especially young girls. Seeing their faces painted with team colors and wearing jerseys of their favorites players brought back great memories of going to games with my own family, particularly with my Dad.
Had it not been for all the weekends singing the Notre Dame Fight Song or cheering on the Bears, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend the Super Bowl (or even work for the NFL). As trite as it may sound, those seminal experiences helped shape who I am today. I may not know every football stat or play formation , but that doesn’t make me any less of a fan.
Yeah – I use Pinterest to share party ideas and cute game day outfits. It’s a lot of fun to share my passion with others. But don’t think for a minute that I (or other female fans) are any less devoted to the game than our male counterparts. I also share my insights and analysis, culled from years of watching games, and it’s fun to see people – especially men – react with surprise when they realize I clearly know what I’m talking about. Being a football fan isn’t a gender thing – and I will continue to challenge anyone who doubts my football knowledge or love of the game.
Would love to hear from other female fans – but don’t try to contact me on Sunday. I’ll be at the game.
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