Gladiator sport or a family thing: Why are women so into the Super Bowl?

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Story highlights

  • According to Nielsen data, 46% of the Super Bowl viewing audience is female
  • Is it the spectacle of the battle or a chance to spend time with the family?
  • Advertisers now know the audience, and cater to the female viewer

The NFL markets the Super Bowl as the ultimate game, the ultimate contest. Helmets clash like gladiators in ancient Rome. Stadiums resemble coliseums -- especially those without a roof. The contest is macho all the way. Players talk about "manning up" (not a reference to the quarterback family) and other testosterone-leaning terms.

Other than a few party-oriented commercials, football is marketed toward men. It's a guy thing, and we ladies are allowed in if we know either when to cheer or how to bring the cheer.

Or so the stereotype goes. So it used to be. But no more.

According to Nielsen demographic data, 46% of the Super Bowl viewing audience is female, and more women watch the game than the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys combined.

That perhaps surprising statistic raises two questions: Why? And, so what?

Donna Brazile

History of the Super Bowl: By the numbers

Why do women watch the game? Now, we know that women attended the gladiator fights and chariot races in ancient Rome. But today, it may be more than just the blood sport.

Many women are into sports for the same reasons men are: They enjoy the competition. It's entertaining. The tailgating before. The excitement during. The celebrating (or commiserating) after. Lots of action.

But a lot of women are football fans because it's a family thing. My father was a lifelong Saints fan, and I'm proud to carry on the family tradition. Lionel Brazile has got to be beaming, knowing I'm going to my second Super Bowl. He would have loved to hear my stories. Maybe I'll tell him one or two while I'm praying.

There are lots of studies about the different ways men and women bond, so I find it interesting how the bonding intersects around Super Bowl time. For women, the score is important if our team is playing. But whether we're watching at home or at the stadium, it's about being there and being with -- family and friends. For the men, it's also about sharing -- but I suspect it's about sharing the competition, vicariously.

But as long as it's a good game, and brings people together for a positive experience, it doesn't matter why.

There is a "so what," though -- a practical economic side to women's interest in The Big Game. She-conomy.com reports that "women influence the majority of consumer spending across all categories."

On the line of scrimmage: Football and politics

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For advertisers and businesses, Super Bowl Sunday should be a prime time to focus on women. Sadly, according to a recent article in adweek.com, advertisers have fumbled the ball.

"In 2013 we saw waitresses turned strippers, scantily clad women tackling each other in the dirt, and a supermodel sloppily kissing a computer programmer," said writer Kat Gordon.

This turns off men as well as women.

So if businesses want their Super Bowl commercials to be part of the event, instead of an excuse to check the fridge, they'd better pay attention to the numbers -- and I don't mean the Roman numerals.

And while they are at it, they should seriously consider taking it one step further and using the Super Bowl -- the most watched sports event of the year -- to promote awareness around issues facing women today.

Use this testosterone-saturated event, for instance, to make clear that while testosterone-driven violence might be entertaining on the field, it doesn't belong in the bedroom.

Use the Super Bowl to do more than determine the best football team of the year. Use it to help end one of the most prevalent crimes of the century -- violence again women. Use it as a warm-up for the One Billion Rising event on February 14, in which more than a billion people worldwide will rise to support justice for women.

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