Changing How Football Sells by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

AnjeanetteKeeping with the sports theme of my last FAR post, I decided to look at a sport which has been typically lacking in female viewership and participating, American football. Over the last five years, there has been an overt attempt to change the way sports, and especially American football, is advertised and marketed. It is true, there are certain sports which not only have been heavily male centric in participation but also in its viewership. Yet, in 2016, viewership of sports no longer seems to be restricted to gender. Men and women are packing stadiums, turning the TV on, and signing up for fan clubs to support their favorites teams and athletes.

And yes, despite women breaking into being superior athletes in soccer, tennis, and swimming (as seen in the number of female athletes at the Olympics) there is still a stigma regarding women and sports.


This stigma ranges from participation to viewership. I myself have had to “justify” my love of soccer and hockey – many men assume I only know a select few concepts regarding a sport, or even worse that I am merely watching the sport because I think the athletes are hot. Now don’t get me wrong, the eye candy that is present on the pitch is quite a bonus but it doesn’t negate my ability to want to watch a quality played match or cheer on a rousing hockey fight. Nor the fact that I belong to a third generation Red Wing fan who grew up playing street hockey with my older brother and being an over-zealous youth soccer defender. Sports, competition, and athleticism has been present in society in many forms.

Sports have been shrouded by the fervor of fandom and competition. Viewership and participation can be segregated by class and gender. Yet despite the roadblocks, women have maintained a presence and interest. The recent hundred years as seen women break into being active participants in sports. Venus and Serena Williams have redefined what it means to be excellent tennis players,


Mia Hamm and Carli Lloyd took soccer to a new level, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner ushered in a new era for female runners.

Active female participation has also fueled a larger female audience.  Female viewership has risen, and with that the official NFL shop has started to cash in on it. Over ten years ago, it was very difficult for women to find apparel -which was not either in a shade of pink or bedazzled, to support their teams. For many years, women would have to buy smaller sized male apparel if they wanted to display their allegiance with clothing.  Yet the lack of options did not stop female fans from supporting their teams nor constantly asking stores to raise to the occasion.


Actress and avid sports fan Alyssa Milano introduced a clothing line to start to satisfy this need. They have since released a maternity line.


Despite the increase in diversity of clothing available for women and even children, it is still somewhat difficult to walk into a sports store and find the assortment which is available online. But stores and companies are trying. With the increase in merchandise has also started to see an increase in advertising. The NFL store has started a marketing campaign which is entitled “Football is Family.” The commercials have ranged from showing how football can bring families together, how families have had to adapt when members root for different teams, and how through the sporting experience, can provide bonding and quality memories. These commercials are smart but they are also doing some fascinating things in a gender studies lens. There is a commercial which was centered around fathers taking their young daughters to games. 2008 saw the NFL release a commercial which showed female fans but it also played into gender stereotypes. At the end of the commercial, a fan of the opposing team shows up and through sound effects it eludes to a potential “cat fight” The Tag line “Be a Woman, Be a Fan…introducing NFL apparel for women”

2015 saw a much needed update on the NFL Shop female commercial. “Wear it Loud” was the campaign to highlight the impressive collection of female apparel being offered for all official teams which also piggybacked onto the “Football is Family” motif. The commercials have catered to the fact that more women and thus more families are actively participating in sports.

The holy grail and crowned jewel of American football is the Super Bowl. The evolution of the Super Bowl has seen the heightened focused on the half-time show and its exclusive and highly expensive commercials. Super Bowl 50 saw a commercial which highlighted the trend called “Super Bowl Babies” which showed that the cities of the winners of a super bowl would see a significant hike in babies being born 9 months later. Many sports’ commercials have highlighted the roles of parents, especially mothers, in supporting athletes in their pursuit of their sports.

While there are female equivalent avenues in most sports, American football has maintained its status as a boys’ club. In the summer of 2015, the Arizona Cardinals broke history by hiring a female coach for their summer training. It created media buzz. Everyone started to talk about the female NFL coach but what they failed to mention was the fact that it was a temporary position – a summer coaching internship. She was not hired for the regular season. As with a much of gender progress, it seems with one step forward comes the tide of two steps back. Sports have maintained their gendered spheres but are slowing cracking under the pressure. Yet, it won’t stop female fans from packing the stadiums, crowding the TV, and proving that sports should know no gender.


Anjeanette LeBoeuf swears she is on the verge of taking her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.

Categories: Sports

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9 replies

  1. You think it is GOOD for fathers to take their daughters to cheer on huge men bashing heads and literally injuring each other? You’ve got to be kidding.


    • I, in no way, support violence. I myself am not a fan of football but I am a supporter of women and girls having access to everything that this world has to offer and especially breaking the taboos that dads suffer when having girls because they will never be able to experience teaching their progeny to ‘play catch’ or take them to their first game due to the gender they were born into.
      As a child, I learned from watching the movie “Sandlot” that to ‘play ball like a girl’ was a curse and the worst remake to be made. I also learned that as a girl I would never truly understand sports. That is what I find fascinating in the changing of football advertising, is that there is a form of push back from this mentality.


      • it doesn’t negate my ability to want to watch a quality played match or cheer on a rousing hockey fight.

        “Cheering on a rousing hockey fight” isn’t encouraging violence? Maybe we should just put our energies into supporting women’s sports, and let dads learn to enjoy them too.


      • Yes, I must confess I have a weakness for hockey and the hockey fights. Its probably a condition of being seeped into the culture of sports violence as acceptable.

        I agree with you that more energy and attention is needed towards other sports which women have far excelled in – which highlights more about the foundation tenants of athleticism and fun. And getting dads and men in general to support these endeavors is another key issue.


  2. I have zero interest in so-called sports where large men use their heads as weapons. And then get serious brain injuries. How is football in any way related to feminism?


    • Hey there Barbara, thank you for your concern.

      I also find football disturbing but sadly the United States is seeped in the culture of Football and a large population wrap their lives around it. American football relates to feminism in many ways, in the ways that it disenfranchises the female fan population, the way that it creates a culture of violence and commodity over a woman’s body – largely seen in the amount of scantly clad females in commercials during a football broadcast- even in the presence of cheerleaders. Football culture is ripe for feminist critique and work. The fact that we live in a culture where brain injury isn’t a sufficient enough reason to stop playing or watching.

      I hope that helps to open the discussion of how football and feminism can live in the same bubble.


      • You say that football is “ripe for feminist critique and work.” That’s for sure! But why bother? I’ve known football fans that are what the word “fan” comes from–FANATICS. Critiquing them is probably a lost cause before we even get started.

        Nevertheless, a discussion is nearly always useful. Right?


  3. Hi Anjeannette, Like the first two respondents, I have questions about whether selling football to women — even if it closes a (discriminatory?) gap — is a positive step. Football seems to be a product of a sexist culture (players/cheerleaders; adversarial relations that get played out violently; totally male-dominated work; etc.) that reinforces that sexism as well. I’ll give you an example.

    In many ways, my skepticism comes from teaching Women’s Studies. When I was teaching the Women and Science Fiction class, I had a group of female students who were big football fans. When we got to the discussion of whether Sword and Sorcery was a genre that could have a feminist message, those students were very vocal in their belief that it could. My other students disagreed, because for them a plot line that was predicated on violently destroying an enemy, especially when women played a prominent role, could not be feminist. For this second group, opening up the military to women was also not a feminist goal. Why? Because violence and warfare were anathema to their understanding of feminism. I agree with my second set of students. From what i’ve seen football reinforces the violent understanding of how you deal with conflict, and I believe that feminism is a non-violent movement.


    • Thanks Nancy for your comments. I would agree that football in its very nature is violent and in this modern age very sexist. And I can most definitely see your point. There is something to this need for competition, for sports which can not be abated – which is I think that a huge component to why football has pervading American culture – and will for many years.

      So if football is deeply rooted in the American subconscious, the question becomes how do we separate the two and also how do we bring in a feminist mentality. Throwing out football is not an option right now, nor is ridding ourselves of the military – despite how much we want them to. What I believe is more tangible is to bring the feminist mentality, the feminist critique to them – to start to weave non-violence and equality from within. But in order to do that, we need to be invited into the conversation, into the equation, and sadly into the game.


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