This hasn’t been a great month for the NFL, you might have noticed. Between the video of Ray Rice beating his wife-to-be unconscious and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges and, now, Arizona Cardinals’ running back Jonathan Dwyer’s arrest for assaulting his wife after she refused his sexual advances, and commissioner Roger Goodell’s overall terrible management of the situation, there’s not been much good PR for America’s favorite pastime. All kinds of fans are angry about these incidents, not just women, but the NFL seems to be particularly tonedeaf towards a growing audience of female fans.
In an article describing women’s overall disillusionment with the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse issues in The New York Times, the NFL’s chief marketing office Mark Waller offered a particularly telling and galling statement about the way that the league thinks about women.
“The matriarch of the family predetermines an awful lot that goes on, from what sport you play to what media you watch to what products get bought,” Mark Waller, the N.F.L.’s chief marketing officer, said in explaining why women were important to the league. “The role of the female in the household is huge. On the emotional side, the role that the female builds that a family can gather around is fundamental. That sort of communal aspect, which is such a part of the game in America.”
The tone of that quote is amazing. Matriarchs? The statement reads like “we are aware of women because as mothers and wives they often buy Doritos for the dudes on the couch.” What about the millions of women who are football fans unrelated to their families? What about unmarried or childless women, in particular young women, who also flock to the bars and televisions to watch their favorite teams?
Since 2007, the NFL has actively tried to court women viewers through a variety of campaigns, but the tone of their advertisements has often framed the women who enjoy football as “the people who bring the dip,” essentially, there for the togetherness of watching the game but not actually invested in the play. That’s a mistake on their part, not just business-wise. The 18-35 set of rabid female sports fans are out there, and not hard to find. If the NFL wants to keep the loyalty of women fandom, they need to start acknowledging that ladies can be football fans in their own right, not just as a byproduct of the men they’re around.