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The Female College Sports Fan: Who is She?

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When you think about the stereotypical sports fan, is the first image you see a man? Obviously, we all know there are many female sports fans, but perceptions of the typical sports fan are still changing as that segment of the audience grows.

An interesting report from LEARFIELD, entitled “Intercollegiate Fan Pulse Report: Empowering the Influence of the Female Fan,” highlights the empowering influence of female fans in collegiate athletics and exactly how to focus marketing efforts to engage women more than ever before.

Data for this analysis was collected from a wide range of sources within LEARFIELD. More specifically, LEARFIELD, being the largest data and analytics platform in collegiate athletics, examined what it dubs the “Female Known Fans” in its proprietary Fanbase data and analytics platform, along with insights from Collegiate Licensing Company.

Female fans in college athletics

The presence of women within collegiate athletics is certainly getting stronger, as the Fan Report revealed that 42% of college sports fans are female, and about 48% of followers of college sports are women.

Although they might not quite make up the majority of college sports fans, companies simply can’t ignore that 85% of consumer spending is influenced by women. However, it seems some are ignoring that. According to the research, 80-90% of women do not feel seen by marketers, citing that brands seem to cater to men.

How women purchase tickets

Female fans represent more than one-third of football and men’s basketball ticket buyers. The percentages are even higher in southern conferences, both in terms of ticket purchasing and donations. Additionally, the data shows female fans tend to have larger ticket buying representation in women’s and Olympic sports, with women’s gymnastics topping the chart.

Given female ticket buying patterns, schools and brands are finding new ways to connect to female fans who engage mostly through social media. The study gathered data from four different types of female ticket buyers and divided the results into two segments for each type of buyer:

Football Ticket Buyer

  • Lives in big cities
  • Lives in the suburbs (the largest group of Female Known Fans)

Basketball Ticket Buyer

  • Older, highly educated, has fewer children
  • Does not have a college degree, buys tickets for baseball and softball

Average Ticket Buyer

  • Has a college degree, highest household income of all the female groups
  • Does not have a college degree, lives in rural areas, below average household income

Below Average Ticket Buyer

  • Less likely to have a college degree, purchases football and men’s Olympics sports tickets
  • Mothers with below average income, lives in the suburbs (displays the lowest rates of tickets bought among all sports)

The data underscores the importance of knowing how different segments of women buy tickets in college sports. Because the ticket buying trends in each segment are very distinct, analyzing and knowing the various buying behaviors across collegiate athletics provides ways in which colleges can better promote ticket and donation opportunities to any given group of female buyers.

Along with this, brand marketers can become more closely engaged with ticket buyers by ensuring their marketing methods are appealing to the demographics that any particular group of female fans exemplifies.

As the report says, “Understanding female college sports fans at this level of detail is critically important for schools and brands looking to optimize their marketing efforts.”

Female viewership trends in college sports

After taking a closer look into the female viewership trends across well-known sports networks, it is clear there is a higher percentage of female viewers through the CBS and ESPN networks. However, female fans are much more likely to stream CBS over ESPN as a majority of female fans are in the SEC, which is the conference that CBS primarily covers.

Furthermore, female fans are typically younger meaning they are included in the ”cord-cutting” generation that is much less likely to pay for cable television. This means they are more likely to view games on various streaming services that come with no additional cost.

Reaching female fans on social media

With football and men’s basketball being the most televised collegiate sports, most women’s sports receive more digital engagement and coverage through social media. In recent data findings, women’s collegiate volleyball carried the largest percentage of female viewership through online streaming services. This means female fans were mostly engaging through various digital methods along with social media platforms since sports like women’s volleyball and gymnastics are often not broadcasted on cable networks.

Because of such a large rate of female viewership of women’s collegiate volleyball, further analysis of college athletic social media handles on Facebook and Instagram specifically examined how athletic departments have been engaging with female fans.

It was found there is a powerful female presence with 54% being Facebook users and 56% being Instagram users nationwide. Among various college athletics social media accounts, “female fans make up 48% of Facebook users and 40% of Instagram users”. Along with this, female fans make up a total of 71% of women’s sports followers throughout the nation.

“With women’s sports showing a larger percentage of female followers and high engagement rates, the potential for brands and schools to reach these audiences through social media is apparent,” the report stated.

The spending power of female fans

LEARFIELD’s CLC found a $14 million increase in women’s apparel spending from October 2020 to September 2021. A majority of women’s apparel categories have been consistently showing positive annual growth. The fastest growing category known as athleisure has grown 87% in the past year alone.

The spending power of female fans continues to grow significantly as the report states, “The tremendous growth of the women’s college apparel market, along with female fans’ overall spending power makes them a crucial demographic that marketers must reach.” Female fans have the ability to continue influence the growth of colleges and their branded items.

Research has also proven female fans are more likely to buy collegiate athletics apparel for gameday events and support friends or family enrolled in specific colleges. Females are 28% more likely to purchase and wear branded college apparel.

Using the data to improve the relationship with female fans

Schools and brands can make better decisions, and employ more effective strategies, with this new data on Female Known Fans. From the report, it is clear that both schools and marketers need to continue to utilize a strong social media presence for both men’s and women’s sports teams on all platforms.

Brands can better reach female fans by evolving their marketing strategies based on the data in the report, although this needs to be done in an “authentic and trustworthy way.”

Given the vast impact that women have on consumer spending, brand marketers and schools must engage with female fans in every sport. By brand marketers and colleges continuing to engage with female fans through social media, online shopping, and various streaming platforms, the idea of the typical sports fan will not only continue to change, but it will continue to influence collegiate athletics in more ways than one.

The time is now to embrace the growing presence of female fans in college sports, and brands who want to grow their presence in the industry will have to make adjustments accordingly.

Read the full report: Intercollegiate Fan Pulse Report: Empowering the Influence of the Female Fan

Author

  • Molly is a student-athlete at Belmont Abbey College where she plays tennis and studies Sport Management and Business Management. She truly believes in the empowerment of women in sports and enjoys learning how to influence gender equality in the sports industry.

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