Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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

By Donna Brazile
updated 1:15 PM EST, Sun February 2, 2014
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

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- 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.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

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

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."

'SNL' mocks Super Bowl halftime show
Christie booed at Super Bowl event
Black Hawk over the Super Bowl

On the line of scrimmage: Football and politics

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT