The Challenges Of Being A Female Sports Fan Despite Making Up A Large Percentage Of Fans

By Chelsy Ranard

If you’ve ever been a female talking sports with someone, you inevitably know the challenges of being a female sports fan. Proving your fandom is only one aspect of the condescension that comes from some fans, both male and female, when they discover you want to have an opinion on sports. There’s no doubt that the challenges are there, but what does this mean for those who work in sports and their fan base?

Marketing towards women is important in many aspects of the sports industry, and some of those challenges have to do with just that. Alienating female sports fans means alienating the people who could eventually become professionals in the sports industry, as well as a major section of consumers. Gender discrimination can have a major impact on sports, their fans, and the people who work within the sports realm in a variety of different capacities.

Female Fan Challenges

Sometimes it’s hard to be a female sports fan just being surrounded by other fans. Someone will inevitably ask you how long you’ve been a fan, why you’re a fan, and some even test you with questions to prove your fandom. Women are accused of being band-wagoners, of liking a sport because their significant other watches, or are constantly having things explained to them without prompting.

Being a new fan is never acceptable, especially if you’re female. Not only that, but the entirety of sports has always been stereotypically male. Men play, men announce, men buy tickets, and men watch the games. However, those preconceived notions about sports are becoming less relevant.

There are challenges between fans, but also in how sports are marketed, how the sports industry recruits young players, and how people treat women within the sports industry. Women aren’t taken seriously as fans, and they aren’t taken seriously once they turn that fandom into a sports career. The first step in changing the perspective of the female gender within the sports industry is to understand there is a bias against women in all facets of sports. A woman’s place in sports isn’t just being a cheerleader, a ring girl, or a way to market something to a man.

Why It’s Important to Market Towards Women

Marketing towards a female audience is important because women have been proven to be a large portion of consumers in the sports niche. Women make up an estimated 45 percent of the NFL’s 150 million American fan base alone, so ignoring this demographic would be detrimental to an entire marketing base. Unfortunately, many in the sports marketing industry interpret marketing towards women by using the “pink it and shrink it” strategy, which isn’t necessary.

Marketing to women involves including them as a key fan base, not as the gender making game-day snacks and nagging about the game. It’s about understanding that women enjoy the game as much as men do and acknowledging female sports as well as male sports, such as the WNBA. It would be awesome one day to see these sports talked about on sites like and for the option to bet on them to become available, and be seen as just as high-stakes as male sports. It’s understanding that an interest in sports will help bridge the gender gap and encourage more women to watch, work, and play within the sports industry.

Things change in the marketing world on a consistent basis. Today 59 percent of the world’s top brands are active on Instagram, and 68 percent of Instagram users are female. The rise in social media in terms of PR for companies has given many industries a way to engage with many different types of consumers.

It’s useless to take advantage of one of the top social media platforms without appealing to the major gender present on that platform. Luckily, just as social media marketing is changing, so is the view of female consumers in the sports niche. The more women who have a favorable experience in the sports world, the more women will feel like they can belong in it from a professional standpoint as well.

When Fans Become Professionals

It’s hard being a female sports fan because your fandom is questioned and the sports industry doesn’t do a great job at marketing towards their female viewership. One of the major downsides to this is that they are pushing women away from an industry that they could one day be working in. By pushing fans away, you’re pushing future professionals away.

Like many careers, interests in those careers grow over time. If you’re passionate about math, maybe you take an interest in engineering. If you grew up interested in sports, maybe you become a sports journalist. Making it challenging to become a sports fan as a woman makes it difficult to develop the interest needed to get involved in sports as a career.

Not only are female fans and professionals facing challenges, so are female athletes. When male-dominated sports are put in the limelight and female-dominated sports are put on the backburner, we are sending a very clear message to future female professional athletes: there’s not much of a future for you as an athlete unless you’re male. Women’s football (soccer) has made impressive strides in this field, but change can’t come soon enough in order to give women an equal chance in becoming a professional in the sports industry.

The Dangers of Gender Discrimination

Being discriminatory towards female sports fans leads to gender discrimination for women in all areas of professional sports and all areas of society on a wider scope. The life of a female sports journalist has never been easy, though many positive changes have been made in the attitude toward women reporting on the game. However, just when you think strides are being made, there are still discriminatory remarks made today.

It was October of 2017 that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton told a female sports journalist that it was “funny” to hear “a female asking him about routes.” When we help share the notion that female fans, professionals, and athletes are lesser than their male counterparts, it perpetuates this type of gender discrimination. In order to push back on this type of dangerous dialogue, it’s important to validate women in sports.

In 2013, only 28 out of 713 agents certified by the NFL Players Association were women. Though women make up a tiny portion of announcers, male fans have a tendency to complain about their voices. There aren’t nearly as many female professional athletes as there are male professional athletes, and the pay gap between the two is huge. It all starts with fandom and leaks down towards all other areas of sports. With more support and validation of women in all areas of the sports industry, dangerous gender discrimination can dissipate and help give a leg up to women looking to make a place for themselves within a sport.

Being a female sports fan is hard because fans feel tested all the time, but that is just one layer of the problem. Pushing female fans away, not including them, or including them incorrectly in marketing efforts, is giving steam to the stance that women don’t belong in the sports industry. Pushing female fans away pushes women from feeling interested in the professional sports realm.

Discriminating against the ones who do make it into the industry validates feelings that women are a joke within the sports boys’ club. The challenges of being a female sports fan go far beyond being called a bandwagoner; it’s about getting pushed out of participating in an entire industry as a fan, professional, or an athlete. Things may be getting better for female fans, but we still have a long way to go to make females feel at home in the sports industry.

Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about feminism, is a shark enthusiast, and can be found playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow her on Twitter.


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