How Female Sports Fans Experience the Game
In recent years, sports have become an agent of change for women and young girls around the world. With more women desiring to get on the scoreboard, is there also a female fan base? If so, what do they enjoy watching? And are female sports fans treated with respect?
To find out, we surveyed over 1,000 women who follow at least one of the four major leagues. The final scores are in – read on to learn which league is most popular among women and how other fans treat them.
Female Fan Favorites
Ciara inspired women and girls in 2019 when she became part-owner of the Seattle Sounders soccer team. In a social media post, Ciara proudly announced she is now one of a handful of female sports team owners. Who are a few of the others? Four of the women belong to the NFL: Virginia Halas McCaskey (Chicago Bears), Patricia Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers), Norma Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), and Martha Ford (Detroit Lions).
While Major League Soccer (MLS) has recently grown in popularity, nearly 52% of the female fans in our study followed the NFL. One in 5 were MLB supporters, 17.8% were behind the NBA, and about 10% were hockey fans.
The Women's World Cup broke viewership records, but as our findings confirm, that's not the standard. Only 12% of female fans said they follow women's sports leagues. Tom Brady and LeBron James were the favored players among women in our study, and only men (Aaron Rodgers, Stephen Curry, and Drew Brees) made the top five.
Playing on the field is intense, but sometimes, things can get a little hectic in the stands. Twenty-three percent of female fans reported experiencing harassment at sporting events, with football fans experiencing it more than female fans of any other league.
Any behavior that threatens or offends someone is defined as harassment. Female fans in our study experienced disrespectful comments more than any other type of undesired conduct (78.4%), and MLB fans were most often the victims. Meanwhile, about 58% of female NBA fans heard sexist comments.
Women experienced harassment at stadiums (68.2%) more than they did at bars (59.2%) or on social media (34.3%). Thirty-six percent of NFL fans encountered harassment on social media, but 81.4% of MLB female fans were forced to deal with unwanted behavior at the stadium.
Are Female Fans Respected?
Being a sports fan could be about many things: honor, passion for a home state, placing bets, and respect. According to our findings, the majority of female fans felt respected, but many were quizzed about their team and game knowledge, with 20% of women being called "fake fans."
Female fans of the NHL were the most likely to be questioned about their team knowledge (37.7%), compared to 40.4% of MLB fans who were quizzed on their understanding of the game. Nearly 70% of women were asked to name their favorite team's players, making it the most common question. Following the name game, female fans were asked what position their favorites played (57.4%) and current season stats (54.9%).
Women in the Stands
Sports have been male-dominated for years, but our findings show that female fans are aplenty. Women enjoy watching their favorite teams play, and they engage with other supporters at stadiums, bars, and on social media. However, a significant number of women prefer cheering on their teams from home because they fear harassment. As major leagues consider the inclusion of women in sports matters, creating safe spaces for them to enjoy the game, online and offline, may need to be considered.
For this project, we surveyed 1,008 female sports fans of at least one of the four major leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL). Those who were not a fan of sports or didn't select one of the four major leagues were disqualified. Respondents had to answer questions about their experiences as female fans.
Respondents ranged in age from 23 to 60, with an average age of 37 and a standard deviation of 10. For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed. To ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.
These data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are only exploratory. Issues with self-reported responses include but aren't limited to exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and bias. All values are based on estimation.
Fair Use Statement
We analyzed how female sports fans are treated because we want everyone to find pleasure in the game. Feel free to share our findings and graphics for non-commercial use. All we ask is that you link back to this page so that our contributors receive proper credit.