Score One For Gender Equality: Is The NFL Ready For Women Leaders?

Will the NFL push for more women in leadership lead to a larger female fan base?

Will the NFL push for more women in leadership lead to a larger female fan base?

Are you ready for some football? A better question might be, is American football ready for more women leaders?

During this freshly launched football season, tune into network television any time Saturday or Sunday, then Sunday or Monday evenings, and you will likely witness a college-level or NFL football game. What you will not see often are women who are coaching, managing or even viewing from the sky boxes or front offices as leaders in the league.

Is American football ready for more women leaders? #womenleaders #taketheleadwomen

All that will change, hopefully, with an initiative to bring gender parity to the NFL, as part of the expansion of The Rooney Rule, to introduce more diversity to executive leadership in the sport. The goal is to add more women leaders. Because it needs to.

“The NFL recently hired Samantha Rapoport, a former tackle football player who previously worked for the league and for USA Football. As director of football development, Rapoport will oversee creating new programming to develop a talent pipeline,” writes Barry Wilner in the Huron Daily Tribune.

Wilner quotes Rappaport, ‘”Really the mission in my role is to provide opportunities for females in positions traditionally held by men and to enhance gender equality.”

The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport recently gave the NFL “a C+ for gender hiring practices, with its score of 76 a percentage point higher than in 2015.” It “gave the NFL a combined B grade in its 2016 NFL Racial and Gender Report Card, The NFL received an A for its racial hiring practices, its score of 91.1 percent slightly lower than its all-time-high mark, 93.1, last year,” according to The Orlando Sentinel.

You might think the NFL is getting very female friendly in its push for more women leaders, especially with its new theme song for Sunday Night Football introduced this summer, the first time it was changed in 10 years. The new song, sung by Carried Underwood, is aimed at female fans.

“After more than a decade of ‘Waiting all day for Sunday night,’ NBC will debut a new theme song for the 2016 season. The theme song, which is based on Joan Jett’s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You,’ was introduced in 2006 and has been sung by Pink, Faith Hill and most recently Carrie Underwood,” writes CBS Sports.

“Last winter, women in the front office planned a women’s summit that was held during the Super Bowl. There, commissioner Roger Goodell announced the NFL front office was creating a Rooney Rule for women in front-office jobs, meaning that for every managerial position and higher, a woman would be interviewed before a hire is made,” according to ESPN.

“With 52.6 million women viewing the Super Bowl this past February, according to the NFL, the league wants to expand opportunities for women in, for example, officiating and as athletic trainers.”

It doesn’t take a veteran play by play announcer to see that this is a male dominated sport; 37 photos on the AP NFL news page have all men as subjects, players, coaches, even fans. But it is in administrative positions with more women leaders, where the NFL wants to be more inclusive.

“Thirty percent of the National Football League’s (NFL) front-office jobs are currently held by women. One of the first to make her mark there was Amy Trask. The Angeleno’s 30-year stint with the Oakland—then Los Angeles—Raiders began with an unpaid internship and progressed to CEO. Indeed, at one point, Trask was the only woman in the room at NFL owners meetings. Trask resigned from the Raiders in 2013,” according to Beckah Wright in GoodSports.

Wright continues, “Trask, whose book, You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League, was released  recently, isn’t surprised by the increase in gender inclusion. Asked about offering advice to women joining the NFL’s ranks, Trask is quick to say they don’t need it. But, “Were I to share any observations with them it would be this: Do your job and don’t spend any time thinking about your gender.”

When you think about managers of sports celebrities, you may think of Tom Cruise playing “Jerry McGuire,” but more women leaders are pioneering in the field of sports management.

More women leaders are pioneering in the field of sports management #taketheleadwomen

“In 1996, when Denise White first started a business to manage athletes and entertainers, she had a difficult time breaking in,” Liz Mullen writes in Sports Business Journal. “Every time I turned around there was a man telling me I couldn’t do something,” said White, founder and CEO of EAG Sports Management.

The NFL’s move to attract more women, also includes this month’s Pink Campaign to create awareness of breast cancer. Some skeptics say it is an effort to deflect attention on the record of NFL players and domestic violence, particularly Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.

“The NFL says it has raised ‘nearly $15 million’ for awareness and screening programs since 2009, much of it from the sale of ‘pink’ merchandise. That’s about $2 million a year from an organization with some $12 billion in annual revenue. But strip away the orchestrated messaging of altruism—and the relatively small amount of money it raises for awareness and screening efforts—and the go-pink campaign is part of a calculated effort to attract more women to become football fans while offering a rose to those concerned about domestic violence,” writes Marty Makary in the Wall Street Journal.

“Women make up, by various estimates, between 33 percent and 45 percent of the NFL’s fan base and are a valuable demographic for the league’s advertisers,” Makary writes.

“From 2009 to 2013, female viewership of NFL games rose 26%, compared to just 18% among men, according to Ebiquity, a media marketing and analytics firm. The NFL has a direct financial incentive to show young women that professional football is both a welcoming community and a potential career option – especially given its goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenue by the year 2027,” according to Yahoo.

Still, some report that female viewership “has dropped significantly between the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the five broadcasters – CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN and the league-owned NFL Network – collectively declined by 10 percent each with women aged 18-34 and 25-54, and dropped by 8 percent with women aged 18-49. In 2015, however, the five carriers found a slight bounce back among women 18-34 with 3 percent growth,” according to the blog, Awful Announcing.

According to the site, “Within women 25-54, the 9 percent decline (2.9 million in 2013 versus 2.6 million in 2015) represents approximately 250,000 women tuning out NFL action.”

NFL viewership is also down for women of color. “With a much larger footprint in the country, black women also represented a significant shift in the league’s ratings and viewership. In 2014, viewership slipped by 12 percent among 18-34, and 7 percent each with black women 18-49 and 25-54. Many black women between 18 and 34 returned in 2015 (a 9 percent lift), but on a whole, the NFL lost between 5-7 percent in the age breaks among black women over the observed period. Most interesting in that is how black women 25-54 who left the NFL alone in 2014 didn’t come back at all as the audience was unchanged the following season,” according to the site.

Could a slip in viewership and a female fan base be a reason to push for women leaders in administrative and executive positions with the NFL? Definitely, as leadership gender parity has proven in all fields to be good for business.

“I’m a firm believer, especially for young girls, in [showing] them that adult women are coaches, scouts, officials. They’re in authority positions on the football field,” Rapoport told Yahoo. “I firmly believe that that does change the mentality of men and women as they consider women in these roles.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon