Marketing to Female Sports Fans

Director, Global Product Management at GroupM
Feb. 5, 2015

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Marketing to Female Sports Fans

  1. Marketing to Female Sports Fans Master of Communication Management Management University of Southern California Thesis Slide Compilation Prepared by Bessie Chu Image  sources:   h.p://     h.p://  
  2. Executive Summary These slides serve as an abbreviated version of my graduate practicum (thesis) for the Master of Communication Management Program at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. My practicum explores how to approach female sports fans from a marketing perspective. The study emcompasses background research (literature review), ethnographic interviews and observations of female sports fans during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as well as an international survey.
  3. Contents •  Why Study Female Sports Fans? •  What Is It Like Being a Female Sports Fan? •  Selected Literature Review •  Study Parameters and Process •  Condensed Ethnography Results •  Sample Survey Results •  Limitations •  Implications & Recommendations •  Summary
  4. Why Study Female Sports Fans? Image  source:  h.p://  
  5. Why Study Female Sports Fans? A Growing Segment Women are a significant and growing audience of professional sports. The ability of these fans to act as active consumers and participants in sports fan culture deserves attention. This growth in female sports fans represents new segments of consumers from a commercial perspective. By The Numbers •  Women consist of at least 30% of the audience of the major professional leagues (Nielsen, 2013). •  31% of real-time World Cup watchers are women (globalwebindex, 2014). •  The number of women participating in fantasy football doubled in 2011 (Dosh, 2012).
  6. The Female Sports Fan Experience Image  sources:   h.p://scontent-­‐­‐xaf1/t51.2885-­‐15/914742_1506187616277430_18601682_a.jpg­‐excited.png?w=300&h=132   h.p://  
  7. Pop Culture Constraints
  8. Stereotypes and Experiences Common Stereotypes •  Only interested in sports because of boyfriend, husband, or male significant other •  Only interested because of the attractiveness of male athletes •  Are clueless about rules, facts, statistics, history, etc. of sports Common Experiences •  Grilled by male fans on their fan knowledge •  Objectified by male fans •  Hostile or unsafe environments •  Unable to purchase wide range of merchandise (women’s clothing, etc.) Image  source:  h.p://­‐2/y101-­‐tops/4904-­‐hot-­‐and-­‐­‐top-­‐10-­‐lakerscelRcs-­‐celebrity-­‐female-­‐fans  
  9. Always Suspect Due to Gender Studies on female fans has delineated different kinds of sports fans, for instance what Markovits & Albertson (2012) term as “sportisas,” are (p. 124) those female fans who fit the requirements of sufficient sports knowledge and love sports, not because they are seeking connection with men. However, even though a sportisa performs the role of the traditional sports fan, she faces a gendered dilemma in that “while she does meet the objective requirements to enter and remain in the club, this asset may well be for naught because, regardless of her achieved knowledge, her ascriptive characteristics will continue to deny her real entry and complete acceptance” (p. 124). In other words, even if a female fan performs the same norms as a male fan, as defined by Markovits & Albertson in her level of sports knowledge, the female fan will always be suspect because of her gender.
  10. Literature Review (Background Research) Image  sources:   h.p://­‐2659963-­‐1EBB7E0B00000578-­‐252_638x417.jpg  
  11. Why Engage in Sports Fandom? British sociologist Gary Crawford (2004), a sports fan scholar, notes that to understand sports fandom, we need to avoid what he calls “reductive dichotomies (such as those of fans vs. consumers)” and must instead examine how “sport is located and experienced in everyday life and social interactions.” (p. 34). Crawford’s thesis revolves around the central theme that individuals participate in sports fandom primarily as an outlet for performances of identity, connection, and consumerism to cope with everyday living. People participate in sports fandom as a way to show who they are. For example many sports fans often cheer on for the team of their hometown, tying them to where they’re from and to their community, often making purchases of items such as jerseys and other apparel to express this facet of their identity, the connection to a community and place.
  12. Who Are Female Sports Fans? There is no monolithic Female Sports Fan. By approaching female sports fans as a monolith, marketers potentially face missed opportunities that a more nuanced approach would provide. For this study I choose to adopt a broader definition of fandom in the Markovits & Albertson’s (2012) framework that includes both the “affective” fan, a fan who enjoys the sport, and the “knowledgeable” fan, who tries to learn as much as possible about the sport. (p. 127).
  13. Female Sport Fans Background •  Pope (2013) divides female sports fandom in “two binary oppositions: hot–cool” (p. 179). Women who are “hot fans” (p. 179) emphasize their sporting allegiance as an important part of who they are while others are more “cool fans” who don’t see it as a part of their identity. •  Dietz-Uhler, Harrick, and Jacquemotte’s (2000) scholarship on sex differences in sports behavior and fandom, is that unlike men who often bond with a sport through play, the bond with a sport for female fans comes more from following the sport rather the participation. •  Markovits & Anderson (2014) wrote “participation in the consumption of sports, as fundamental a part of contemporary American culture as it can be, is important to most women because of the opportunities that such participation offers for social inclusion” (p. 160). •  Jone’s (2008) ethnography of female sports fans in England highlights three trends in which female soccer fans have responded hostile behavior – participating in it, ignoring it, or condemning it. •  Moore & Homer (2008) found that women tend to emphasize a stronger relationship to the “perceived brand meaning (including image and brand personality), and the consumer’s self-concept” (p. 708), especially when it comes to “female-oriented brands” such as the WNBA (p. 709). In other words, women tend to hold strong opinions about a brand’s perceived values and ethics, especially if the brand has a gendered focus toward women.
  14. What Do Female Sports Fans Dislike? •  While Markovits & Anderson (2012) emphasize that while being female sports fan does not automatically mean support of women’s sports (p. 10), women are sensitive to the sexualization of female bodies in the rhetoric of sports. •  Banet-Weiser & Baroffio-Bota (2006) explain that “gender representation of women in the media are driven by the commercial market, and revenue is generated through tried and true formulae so that normative conventions of femininity are the surest bet for networks” (p. 496). •  Duncan (2006) wrote in her study on gender and media that “since women received only a tiny amount of coverage that men received, the effects of sexual objectification and sarcasm were that much more powerful” (p. 239). The overrepresentation of women’s bodies as sexualized can cause female sports fans to feel alienated. •  Because women are so poorly represented in general in sports media, from athletes to sports commentators to fans, female sports fans can respond negatively to the objectification of women in sports marketing.
  15. What Do Female Sports Fans Want? •  Indra Nooyi (2012), the CEO of Pepsi, spoke about how she wanted to be treated as a true fan, saying, “I don't want pink jerseys, and I don't want dumbed-down content. I want to be treated as a real fan--because I am proud to be one” (Par. 75). •  Cecamore, Fraesdorf, Langer, & Power (2011) wrote “Female fans do not want to be forgotten about by the media. They want to see and hear authentic women‘s voices with a deep sports passion and knowledge, women like themselves, who can address men and women from behind the sports desk instead of this role falling to weather girls turned sports presenters. They do not want to be the butt of ̳in-house media jokes, but want to be acknowledged as a credible presence by the sports media” (p. 48). Image  source:  h.p://sportsnetwork.wpengine.netdna-­‐­‐content/uploads/2013/09/women-­‐test3_236317s.jpg  
  16. Study Framework and Design Image  Source:  h.p://­‐content/blogs.dir/2/files/2013/04/Taiwanese-­‐baseball-­‐fans2.jpg  
  17. Study Framework and Goal This study strives to produce a complex picture of female sports fans in order to discover what actions the sports industry could take to appeal to female sport fans. The system I am using to explore the types of branding that may appeal to female sports fans is the Leveraging Engagement Framework of the FANS.PASSIONS.BRANDS Study by HAVAS Sports and Entertainment in conjunction with the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, where I worked as a Project Manager and Researcher. The Leveraging Engagement Framework uses eight logics of engagement consisting of a “set of principles that categorizes the relationship between fans and their passions” (HAVAS Sports & Entertainment, p. 1).
  18. Image  source:  h.p://­‐fans-­‐decoded-­‐through-­‐logics-­‐engagement-­‐fans-­‐passions-­‐brands-­‐study   Leveraging Engagement: Logics
  19. Leveraging Engagement: Logics Image  source:  h.p://­‐fans-­‐decoded-­‐through-­‐logics-­‐engagement-­‐fans-­‐passions-­‐brands-­‐study  
  20. Methods •  First, I used the method of ethnography, via twenty interviews and observations, to gain qualitative and nuanced insight about why and how female sports fans engage in sports fandom. The data produced via the ethnographic method is understood to provide real-life examples of their sports experience, for example, stories of how female fans participate in their fandom, and how they perceive sports brands. •  Second, I analyzed an international survey I co-wrote and launched in May 2014 for The Annenberg Innovation Lab and HAVAS Sports and Entertainment’s FANS.PASSIONS.BRANDS study to provide a quantitative basis for how strongly female fans interact in the context of logics of engagement to see how their survey responses coincide with the qualitative insights from the ethnography.
  21. Ethnography Results Image  source:  h.p://­‐XU867_0612AI_J_20130611223206.jpg  
  22. Dataset
  23. Collection and Coding Method •  20 female fans were interviewed at bars, stadiums, private homes, and restaurants in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, mostly after World Cup matches. •  I coded the ethnographic interviews based how many times and how strongly logics were mentioned and split the analysis into two sections, one on fan engagement in general and one specifically on brands. •  As an example, if one of the participants mentioned activities that fall under Social Connection five times, I coded that logic as a five for that participant. –  An example of activity around Social Connection would be if the participant mentioned that getting together with friends to watch a game at a bar is an important part of her fan experience. –  Another example is if a fan mentioned that knowing the stats behind players was an important activity for her, that activity would be coded as an instance of Mastery. •  There were a few instances where participants focused deeply about one aspect strongly and in-depth, so I scored those statements as two mentions. –  One of the women I interviewed spoke at length about how she got into soccer because her family immigrated to the United States from Argentina. She spoke more about Identification than most of the participants and it was clearly the most important part of her fan experience, so I scored that as two mentions even though that was just a response to one question.
  24. Logics Results Summary Social Connection ranked the highest with 65 mentions, followed by 56 mentions of Entertainment, 54 mentions of Identification, 46 mentions of Advocacy, 45 mentions of Mastery, 43 mentions of Pride, 29 mentions of Immersion, and lastly 23 mentions of Play.
  25. Brand and Experience Tables Advocacy, the logic of championing, ranked the highest at 15 mentions, mostly involving statements approving of brand’s sponsoring certain teams the fans liked or disapproving of some behavior by brands. Identification and Pride followed with seven and six counts respectively. Mastery had four mentions. Entertainment, Play, and Social Connection each had two mentions and Immersion only showed up once under the brand logics section of the ethnographic interviews. To examine further insights on logic counts surrounding general questions on fan behavior and logic counts on questions related specifically to brands, I went back and counted mentions in several areas of interest showed up prominently that I consider worthwhile for discussion.
  26. Selected Analysis: Social Connection •  From a raw numbers perspective, Social Connection features the most examples. This could be interpreted on the lines of stereotyping female sports fans accompanying their partners to tagalong with their male significant others, which is one of the taunts against female sports fans mentioned by Chirico (2014) in the literature review or that they only care about the social experience. •  However, none of the female sports fans interviewed mentioned boyfriends or husbands as the sole or most important person they shared their sports experience with. •  Additionally in observations in the field, we saw many women with groups of friends, including many groups of only women going to bars or attending viewing parties together. Two of the respondents mentioned watching sports with their brothers and three of the respondents with children mentioned connecting with soccer through their sons. •  The female sports fans we spoke to and observed practiced Social Connection with groups of friends or with their families, mostly through parental and sibling relationships. Sports brands should take note that in potentially planning a social experience that relates to female sports fans, it isn’t just about the guy she might be with, they should be able relate potential fan experiences to other dimensions, such as family and friends.
  27. Selected Analysis: Identification, Pride, and Want for More •  A logic pairing to think about is Identification, which is closely related to Pride, as Pride is most often the outward expression of Identification, for instance by wearing a team jersey. •  AD, 31, expressed she loved Adidas because, “They’re super German. It’s so German. The colors are German, and I really identify with the nation. It’s really sticking out for me.” •  KL, 25, Brazilian, also spoke fondly of Adidas sponsoring her local home team, Flamengo, “I think Adidas is good because they have a solid history of engaging with Flamengo. In the past, they’ve been present in victorious moments. This is the memory we have about Adidas with Flamengo. We are happy to have this brand back again.” •  Sports companies that sell merchandise to female sports fans should take note in this level of enthusiasm in relation to sports-related products. •  Many interviewees complained about the lack of appropriate gear for female sports fans as too overtly feminine, mostly maternity-related clothing, or just not having the right availability of sizes. Nooyi (2012) spoke about how she wanted to be treated as a true fan, meaning she didn’t want over- feminized jerseys or “dumbed-down” content (Par. 75). Chirio (2013) as well as Cecamore, Fraesdorf, Langer, & Power (2011) also commented lack of merchandise to fulfill in relation to demand from female sports fans. Female sports fans have been documented in their intensity in identifying with sports as parts of their identity and desire to express it outwardly. Companies should take note in additional possible sales beyond the current limited range of items and considering creating merchandise for larger range of female sports fans, not just the pink jerseys or maternity wear crowds.
  28. Selected Analysis: Advocacy and Sportsmanship •  One last prominent dynamic that warrants discussion is attitudes were toward brand ethics, as coded under the logic of Advocacy. Female sports fans overwhelming (17 out of 20) mentioned how important good sportsmanship between players in matches and fans with each other as well as the importance of ethical practices when they were asked brand questions. •  KL, 26, Brazilian, specifically pointed out she disliked the Brazilian soccer club Corinthians because they are “too aggressive.” •  JB, 27, American from Baltimore said she liked how Under Armor supported the city by sponsoring local initiatives and hiring locally. •  SB, 30, American added, “Budweiser is disgusting specifically because of forcing laws to change to sell alcohol during the World Cup” in reference to how alcohol can create an unsafe environment at stadiums. She pointed to her beer and told me she takes care to not order anything made by Budweiser. •  Moore & Homer (2008) found that women tend to have stronger feelings toward brand values and ethics in comparison to men, both positively and negatively. •  JB, 27, American said she “pays attention when I find things sexist in sports. I take exception to that, such as in the Superbowl when they bring on GoDaddy ads. Superbowl ads are sexist, but GoDaddy is the worst offender.” Brands should take note in not just how to market more to female fans in terms of advertising leveraging the logics in the previous paragraphs, but also about their conduct in general, because female sports fans take notice. It is likely not enough to just make more merchandise available, but also practice what female sports fan consider ethical business practices to gain their loyalty.
  29. Survey Results Image  source:  h.p://­‐2010/in-­‐pics-­‐cool/FOOTBAB_1_630.jpg  
  30. Analysis Method •  I analyzed an international survey taken of sports fans for research conducted in a joint study between the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and HAVAS Sports and Entertainment. I co-wrote many of these questions working as part of the research team as a project manager. The online survey, called the FANS.PASSIONS.BRANDS Global Survey, was carried out by research firm YouGov on our behalf in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and the United States in May 2014. The entire survey included 21,868 respondents. •  My specific focus for the survey looks at female sports fans in what logics of engagement they primarily practice in their fandom, their feelings towards brands, and how they consume media. •  Multiple offices and markets across HAVAS are leveraging this survey for different purposes, and thus it contains a plethora of data, such as looking at interests outside of sports, that are not relevant to this study. I used SPSS and removed all extraneous values, such as responses by men and those who responded to the survey who said that they were “Not at all interested in sports.” I did not further eliminate from the sample since the rest of the respondents were all still at least “slightly interested” in sports. Given the stigma female sports fans face and the perceived hierarchal nature of sports fandom as discussed in the literature review, I believe women are less likely to confidently respond with higher values on the Likert scale. However, they still are “affective fans,” (Markovits & Anderson, 2012, p. 127) those fans have an affinity to sports that marketers can reach. •  Once I removed all those respondents that said they were not at all interested in sports, I was left with 8,807 female sports fans for analysis. •  After taking out unnecessary data, I pulled basic information such as the age distribution and countries represented in the international survey, shown in the next slide. •  I pulled some examples that used descriptive statistics to analyze survey questions related to the ethnography.
  31. Survey Age and Distribution
  32. Selected Analysis: Female Sports Fans Care About Deep Knowledge Female Sports fans are not clueless about sports in the way popular culture views them to be, the positive responses in the questions about Mastery shows the passion of female sports fans in learning about sports. 4,466 (51%) of the respondents Agree or Strongly Agree with wanting to learn more about the team or players of the sport they follow. •  Thus, sports brands should understand female sports fans do engage with sports deeply for the love of the game and create experiences and content inclusive of these fans, both physically and digitally.
  33. Selected Analysis: Sports are Entertainment for Women This survey response and surveys to similar questions destroy the notion that female sports fans care only about a social experience. The high levels of agreement, 5,982 (68%) responded Agree or Strongly Agree, in enjoying the sport even without others around attest their enjoyment of the sport itself. Sports brands should keep in mind the female sports fans do enjoy the sport itself and cater to that fan experience, not simply just to the idea that woman will only engage with sports with friends, family, or significant others.
  34. Selected Analysis: Advocacy and Ethics Important to Fans 3,624 (55%) Agreed or Strongly Agreed on caring if a player or brand makes a difference in their community. Along the same lines, these results coincide with the many statements made in the ethnographic interviews and in the literature review regarding good sportsmanship. Female sports fans, like all sports fans among them, have variations in how they approach their fandom, as seen in the ethnography and the survey questions above, but this is the one factor that is nearly universal among female sports fans.
  35. Limitations Image  source:  h.p://­‐res-­‐152657930_crop_north.jpg?w=630&h=420&q=75  
  36. Study Limitations •  Only 20 participants for the ethnographic interviews. Participants skewed American and Brazilian. •  Both the ethnographic interviews and surveys were carried out specifically to coincide with the World Cup. Dynamics particular to soccer and World Cup might have been overemphasized with dynamics particular to other sports underemphasized. •  Simple descriptive statistics to analyze a selected group of questions surrounding fan engagement and brand logic questions. •  This study does not break out these fans into particular segments and uses aggregate data, though that would be worthwhile exercise to undertake with this data. •  I am combining data from a variety of cultures and age groups using one framework. However, while brands will need to be culturally specific in their targeting, the language of brands is universal and not necessarily culturally driven.
  37. Recommendations and Summary Image  source:  h.p://­‐bafana-­‐fans.jpg/ALTERNATES/crop_638x402/Bafana+Bafana+Fans.JPG  
  38. Recommendations 1.  Female sports fans in this study do not have the most positive opinions about live events and viewing, even though the interviewees and survey show they want better fan experiences in this area. This includes safety from hostility and other adjustments to the environment that promotes inclusiveness at places like stadiums and bars. Those female sports fans that prize the social aspect of participating in sports should also be paid attention to, perhaps by special deals on group discounts that are targeted to women. 2.  The sports industry overlooks female sports fans truly into the game without the need for companionship. These are the fans that will sit at home alone and wear her team gear to enjoy the game on TV. These fans deserve acknowledgment through better commercial experiences. It follows then, that these fans should not be overlooked in promoting marketing publications or online newsletters with deep content, such as analysis of player statistics, as an example. Many female sports fans care about this aspect of Mastery as well, and brands should take notice. 3.  While many female sports fans do engage with existing official channels in relation to sports, such as watching SportsCenter on ESPN or following the official social media feeds of teams and players, many actively seek out their own content. One of the more surprisingly aspects of this study was the sheer amount of information aggregation described by the female sports fans we interviewed and the glaring gap in discoverable content by brands in the survey. Female sports fans clearly care about content, and that content currently does not exist or is not marketed to female sports fans properly. Brands should take stock that this demand for content represents a unique opportunity. 4.  The lack of merchandise available for female sports fans to buy is one visible glaring market demand that has not yet been met. Insufficient products to express fandom have been a wide complaint in the literature, ethnography, and survey. Female sports fans strongly recognize brands and are cognizant of this lack of options. They are a diverse group and want a wide range of merchandise that fits them to express their devotion to the teams they love. 5.  Female sports fans want to be treated not simply by acknowledging their gender or lumped with male sports fans, but as multi-faceted female sports fans. Female sports fans are not a monolith.
  39. Summary of Analysis 1.  Women do actively enjoy the sport on a purely entertainment level. 2.  Better social experiences at events and digitally by would be appreciated by female sports fans. 3.  Merchandise is lacking for female sports fans. 4.  Playing sports is a niche interest among female sports fans that varies by nationality. 5.  As whole female sports fans care deeply about ethical values.
  40. Further Study and Last Words •  A future step in this study outside of the scope of this paper would be to run a factor and cluster analysis on the survey to determine individual segments that may group these fans strongly in certain logics or characteristics across certain demographic groups. A side-by-side comparison to male fans in terms of the ethnography and survey could reveal possible overlaps as well as differences to consider for marketers. This additional analysis could have important consequences for marketing teams with more specific information to target certain age, demographic, and psychographic groups. Additional interviews of female sports fans of ages that did not get covered or focus groups could reveal more insights in how sports fandom is practiced among women. •  Respecting female sports fans and perceiving female sports fans in more complex manners as true sports fans uplifts sports and society. Markovits and Albertson (2012) wrote extensively about the role sports has crossing boundaries and creating unity, except on gender. Giving female sports fans a better consumer experience will not only provide better fan experiences and create opportunities for the sports industry, but also gives female sports fans greater legitimacy in sports fandom and extends the uniting power of sports through recognition of female sports fans as an essential part of the sports fan universe, a universe that brings different people together.
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