Condensed presentation in slides about my thesis on Marketing to Female Sports Fans which I wrote for my USC Masters in Communication Management on marketing to female sports fans through the lens of ethnography and marketing surveys. Uses the 2014 FIFA World Cup as the case study, including observed comparisons of female sports fans in the United States and Brazil. Explores who female sports fans are, the commercial opportunities behind them from a marketing perspective, and how.
Female Sports Fans
Master of Communication Management Management
University of Southern California
Thesis Slide Compilation
Prepared by Bessie Chu
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.
• 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
• Implications & Recommendations
Why Study Female Sports Fans?
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
By The Numbers
• Women consist of at least
30% of the audience of the
major professional leagues
• 31% of real-time World Cup
watchers are women
• The number of women
participating in fantasy
football doubled in 2011
Stereotypes and Experiences
• 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
• 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.)
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.
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
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.
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).
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
• 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.
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.
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).
Study Framework and Design
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).
• 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
• 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.
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
– 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.
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.
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.
Selected Analysis: Social
• 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
• 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
• 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
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.
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.
Selected Analysis: Advocacy and
• 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
• 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
• 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.
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
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.
Summary of Analysis
1. Women do actively enjoy the sport on a purely
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
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
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