Women proving to be dedicated NFL fans

Women proving to be dedicated NFL fans

  • Duane Prokop/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Veteran San Francisco 49ers fan Tina Ellison became a devout cheesehead after meeting her husband, Todd. Now, Ellison says she considers herself a die-hard fan of both the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers and will be rooting — enthusiastically — for the latter today. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fans Carla Wilson, left, and Kim Keefer — accompanied by a cardboard cutout of Steelers stalwart Jerome Bettis — will be rooting for the black and gold when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers today in Super Bowl XLV. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Die-hard Green Bay Packers fan Roxanne Wolf has collected her fair share of Packers paraphernalia over the years. She and her husband, Jeff, make it to Lambeau Field at least once each season to take in a Packers home game. (enlarge to view more photos)

  • Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal

    This blingy bulldog is part of Packers fan Roxanne Wolf’s collection. 

Duane Prokop/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Veteran San Francisco 49ers fan Tina Ellison became a devout cheesehead after meeting her husband, Todd. Now, Ellison says she considers herself a die-hard fan of both the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers and will be rooting — enthusiastically — for the latter today. (enlarge to view more photos)

By John Przybys
Feb. 6, 2011

It’d be fun to introduce Kim Keefer and Carla Wilson to Roxanne Wolf and Tina Ellison today, and maybe even buy them a drink or two while they got to know one another.

They’d probably have a lot in common. They’re nice, they have great senses of humor, they enjoy a good time and they’d probably get along really well.

But you would have to separate them at about 3:30 p.m. today. That’s roughly when Super Bowl XLV kicks off at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and it’s then that things might turn a bit, well, loud.

You see, Keefer and Wilson are avid, rabid fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Wolf and Ellison are just as avid, just as rabid fans of the Green Bay Packers. And, for the odd Neanderthalish male fan who still argues that football is a man’s game, these women are gridiron-loving, jersey-wearing, allegiance-swearing proof to the contrary.

For more proof, scope out the crowd when you enter your favorite bar, sports book or Super Bowl party today. Odds are you’ll see plenty of women there, most of whom probably are as serious about the big game as you are.

Fact is, watching NFL games is one of American women’s favorite sporting pastimes. A recent national survey by Scarborough Sports Marketing asked women 18 and older to rank their interest in 31 sports, from NFL football to high school sports, on a four-point scale ranging from “very interested” to “not interested.”

According to the survey, the only two sports that more than half of American women say they have interest in are the Olympics and the NFL, with 55 percent and 51 percent respectively, notes Bill Nielsen, the company’s vice president of sales. (Major League Baseball, with 40 percent, was next.)

The survey also reveals that 42 percent of the NFL’s total fan base is made up of women.

The most-interested female football fans “are the group that’s going to games, they’re on NFL.com or team websites,” Nielsen says. “They’re the engaged football fan, watching regular season games, maybe even watching pre-season games.”

That sounds right to lifelong Steelers fan Keefer, who says she has noticed more and more women watching games these days compared to even as recently as 10 years ago.

Keefer’s dad was born in Pittsburgh and moved with his parents to California when he was about 6. However, he took with him on his westward move his love of the Steelers and, when the time came, passed it along to his daughter.

“I grew up a Steelers fan,” Keefer says. “It’s in the genes. I can’t help it.”

Now, Keefer — whose husband is from Pittsburgh and who thus is, of course, another Steelers fan — is passing on her love of the black-and-gold to her own kids.

“My daughter is a Steelers fan. She kind of jumped on the bandwagon,” Keefer says. “And my grandson is 3½ and he’s a huge Steelers fan. He can pronounce ‘Polamalu’ without a problem.”

Packers fan Ellison also was born a fan, but of the San Francisco 49ers. Her dad was a 49ers fan, she explains, and “once they built Candlestick (Park), he became a season ticket holder. My parents would do the whole tailgate thing, and … I can remember probably at the age of 4 going to games.”

Then Ellison met her husband, Todd, and became a devout cheesehead.

“I knew of (the Packers), but I wasn’t really a fan until I met my husband,” she says. “That was in the mid-’80s.”

Now, she says, “I’m a die-hard 49ers fan, but I’m also a die-hard Packer fan, too. I follow both teams.”

Wolf, a native of Madison, Wis., became a die-hard Packer fan about the age of 5, “in the late ’60s when the Packers were going to the first Super Bowls.

“I have memories of my dad putting the couch in front of the TV — TVs were very small back then — and … everybody going crazy. It’s one of my earliest memories of football.”

Wolf’s ardor for the Packers didn’t dim when she and the family moved to California when she was about 11.

“I was just born with it,” Wolf adds. “It’s just something that is, and it’s always been part of who I am.”

In contrast, there’s Steelers die-hard and Indiana native Wilson, who admits that she “never was into football growing up.”

“My dad used to watch it on TV, and I couldn’t stand it,” she says.

Then, when she was 21, Wilson met her husband, who grew up outside of Pittsburgh and who, Wilson says, “was born a fan.”

They’ve been together for 27 years and married for the past 14. Yet, when her husband and, maybe, a few friends would sit in the living room to watch the Steelers play on TV, “I would be cooking for the game — Buffalo wings or chicken fingers or homemade pizza.”

Then she began to listen to the game from the kitchen. Then she began to peek in on it. Then she began to sit down and watch it with them.

Wilson says she has been a “serious — real serious” Steelers fan since 2003 or 2004. And, of her three kids, “two of them are die-hard Steelers fans, and my oldest is a Vikings fan. His second team is the Steelers.”

Angeline Close, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who studies consumer behavior and sports marketing, notes that, often, “culture and family shape consumers’ behavior.”

“It’s just kind of subconscious, learned behavior,” she says, that “you kind of do what your parents do when it comes to consuming a brand. And that brand can be a product, but it can also be an experience or entertainment brand like a football team.”

Nor is the notion that a woman can be as fanatical as a man about a football team sound as odd as it might have even a generation ago. Close — who also is editor of the recently published book “Consumer Behavior Knowledge for Effective Sports and Event Marketing” — has done research that reveals that “leisure time activities are becoming more gender-neutral.”

“We found, for example, that men are more interested in ballet than in years past,” she explains, “and women are getting more interested in things like football and things that are (traditionally) more male-oriented.”

Consequently, Close adds, “the way that marketers are branding leisure and entertainment brands has been much more gender-neutral.”

In the end, however, those crazed, jersey-wearing women you’ll be seeing at Super Bowl events today probably are football fans for the same reason as the crazed, jersey-wearing guys.

“It’s just such an exciting sport,” Ellison says.

“It’s fast-paced, and the guys can do some amazing things.”

Source:   Zinkhan, George M., Penelope Prenshaw, and Angeline G. Close (2004). “Sex-Typing of Leisure Activities,” Advances in Consumer Research, 31, 412-419.