Trying to make the Super Bowl appeal to women? Here's a hint: leave it as is.
Super Bowl XLVI is shaping up to be one of the most female-friendly in years -- both the national anthem and the halftime show feature strong female performers. But considering that one-third of the audience for NFL games in general are women, drawing in female viewers shouldn't be an issue.
"I look at footage from back in the day, and there has always been a huge interest from women in sports," says Ivette Ricco, creator of FemmeFan.com, a site geared toward the female fan. "But the NFL hasn't learned how to incorporate the female fan within the scope of enjoying the game. With generations who are going to college, where they are really involved in the sports, they're going to be approaching sports in different ways. The leagues have to learn to speak to that."
Last year, ESPN launched espnW, an offshoot of the massive sports franchise "dedicated to serving female athletes and fans." The site is taking a specific approach to sports coverage for women, stemming from research that showed how differently men and women take in sports information. While men may be more focused on obscure statistics and history, women tend to gravitate toward basic stats and personal stories about the players, a difference Huffington Post and female football blogger Shaneika Dabney noted recently:
The truth of it all is that while women may approach football differently, in that we don't all feel a need to memorize every stat or breakdown every play, our passion and motivation for watching the game is quite often the same as your average guy who watches the game. We just plain old dig it. We love our teams, we love the unpredictability, we love the momentum swings, we love the drama.
In pop culture, movies like A League Of Their Own (starring this year's halftime show performer Madonna) and Bend It Like Beckham have highlighted women's participation in sports, but rarely is a woman depicted as being a die-hard fan of any particular team, like Jimmy Fallon's character in Fever Pitch. Instead, women are shown as sitting on the sidelines, barely tolerating their man's obsession. Ricco thinks it could be a problem with football's specific DNA.
"It is such a male dominated sport -- a sanctuary for men, where everything about the sport is about toughness and physiciality," she says. "They're not sure how to incorporate a female fan into that."
The most prevalent women on the field -- that is, the ubiquitous cheerleaders -- may be indicative of a larger problem, but for fans like Ricco, it's barely an issue.
"I'm not a great fan of the cheerleaders, only because they don't do anything for me personally. It's just kind of a side show and I don't think it's that important in terms of the game," she explains. And besides, women aren't exactly immune to the physical attraction. As Ricco notes, the Patriots are favoured by her readers for this Sunday's Super Bowl. And why?
"You can't get away from the eye candy of Tom Brady!" she says with a laugh.
A female owner, a supermodel wife and some serious fans -- check out the women of interest most likely to be at Super Bowl XLVI: