Super Bowl Sunday is when autumn football widows join the huddle.
Parties and cool commercials carry as much weight as first downs and quarterback sacks. And that means a diversified audience that crosses almost all lines, including gender. The New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots last February drew 111 million viewers. About 45% of them -- just over 50 million -- were female.
Plenty of them were big football fans -- par for the course in this day and age. But the big number is also attributable to the ancillary qualities that surround the game, those that make it an anchor for America’s biggest party. Surveys have shown that the majority of women tuning in to the Super Bowl are there for the socializing and commercials.
“The Super Bowl is no longer a sporting event as much it’s an entertainment event,” says Stephen Master, a senior vice president at Nielsen Sports.
The vast female audience drawn by the NFL’s signature game is the largest for a sporting event by a wide margin, more than double the 22.8 million that tuned in for the 2012 Summer Olympic opening ceremonies in August.
Nielsen rounded up viewership data on the major sporting events of the past year, from which we gathered those with the greatest numbers of female viewers. In addition to the Super Bowl, the largest female audiences included college football’s BCS National Championship game between Alabama and LSU (8.2 million women), the NCAA basketball final between Kentucky and Kansas (7.4 million) and the 2011 World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers (6.4 million per game over seven games).
No doubt the college sports industry lucked out with its finals matchups this past year: When two traditional football powers meet in the BCS final and two longtime basketball powers cap off March Madness, you’re tapping into longtime loyal markets that have long since crossed gender lines. Women have been chanting “Go Blue” (Kentucky hoops) and “Roll Tide” (Bama football) for many years. The previous years’ matchups (Oregon-Auburn in football; Butler-Connecticut in basketball), didn’t do as well with women.
Just missing the top 10 were two major female athletic events: the U.S. Open women’s tennis final and the NCAA women’s championship basketball game. The likely reason: they were pushed down the ladder this year by the Olympics, a hugely popular event among women that wasn’t a factor in 2011.
On balance, sporting events like the Super Bowl that draw the largest numbers of women still have male-dominated audiences -- the female contingent is sizable but still in the minority. The exceptions , i.e. events with a majority female viewing audience: the Olympics (including opening and closing ceremonies) and the Kentucky Derby.
“The Derby and NBC did a phenomenal job creating it as a lifestyle event,” says Master, who notes that the promotional schedule stretches across all NBC properties, and include mint julep recipes on cooking shows.
Does any of this mean that marketers are likely to turn to sports programming to reach women? No, not specifically, since there are many more cost-effective ways to target that audience. What it does mean: As sports and entertainment continue to converge, the audience demographic continues to widen. That leaves room for an array of consumer products well beyond beer, razors and motor oil to bid for time.