Women dominate the consumer economy. Some estimate that they control over 75% of all discretionary purchases and represent a growth market larger than China and India combined. Yet, our marketing strategies for this lucrative population are often stuck in the 1950s. Spectator sport marketing provides a harrowing example of this, as we often engage women’s sports fans through the “Pink it and Shrink it” strategy. That is, we take a product initially marketed toward men, like a football jersey and make it pink and smaller. While strategy may reach some women, it fails to fully represent the unique needs and wants of this important demographic.
In the context of fantasy football, women make up nearly 38% of participants and represent the fastest growing demographic for the activity. This is unique phenomenon, as fantasy football has been portrayed as a highly masculine domain. In the sport management and communications literature, most of the research on fantasy football has focused on why people participate. The resulting motives vary from one study to the next, but consistency between the studies exists in that nearly all of them surveyed or interviewed male participants only. A few studies have then taken the motive instruments developed through male samples and applied them to female samples.
This provides some utility; however, similar to the above “Pink it and Shrink it” strategy, it misses the opportunity to understand the unique motives of female fantasy participants. Certainly women play for the same reasons as men, but they may also play for reasons that have never been measured. The current study aimed to explore this phenomenon.
The current study explored why women play fantasy football through a scale development research design. We conducted multi-stage, mixed methods study where women fantasy football participants and sports fans were inductively interviewed, motives were then developed, refined, and retested on two larger samples of female fantasy football participants. In total, 450 participants were studied.
As expected, women play fantasy football for similar reasons as men, but also play for unique reasons. A total of five motivation factors were uncovered.
Three factors (Enjoy, Enhance, and Socialize) are similar to motives previously found by sport management and communications scholars, and two factors (Challenge and Connect) are unique to female participants. These factors include:
- Enjoy: playing for fun and entertainment
- Enhance: to improve the time spent engage in NFL-related activities
- Socialize: to bond, compete, and stay in contact with friends, family, and coworkers Two factors, however, represent new motives for the fantasy sport knowledge base.
- Challenge: The first unique motive. It represents the opportunity to engage and defeat male opponents in a male-dominated environment.
- Connect: The second motive signified the drive to connect with individual NFL players on a deeper level through fantasy participation.
Validity testing found that the Enjoy and Enhance factors predicted NFL viewership, the Connect factor predicted social media use, and the Challenge factor negatively predicted enjoyment with the activity and positively predicted frustration. In general, the findings provide a number of takeaways for both academics and practitioners.
For academics, there remains a need for understanding the unique attitudes and behaviors of female sports fans. The current study is evidence that similarities obviously exist with males, but there are also distinct aspects to being a female sports fan.
For practitioners, the Challenge factor may represent an opportunity for more empowerment-related marketing tactics for female fantasy football participants and potentially female sports fans, in general. Empowerment marketing has grown recently, since its inception in the late 1960s. Companies like Under Armor and Dick’s Sporting Goods have utilized empowerment messages directly with sports equipment and apparel. Fantasy football may represent another platform for this marketing strategy. Similar to the female consumers, in general, female sports fans are powerful, and more empirical research in this area is advised.
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