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The Pittsburgh Steelers - a Sweetheart Franchise?

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As I was glancing over the front page of the Pittsburgh Steelers' official team website several weeks ago, an item caught my eye:

Registration is now open for the "2010 Ladies Night Out Event" at Heinz Field on Wednesday October 13 from 4-10 p.m. The Steelers are grateful to have the No. 1 female fan base in the NFL and we hope to see you on October 13.

So, being the curious sort that I am, I called the telephone number they provided to ask a few questions. I wanted to know whether there were places left, for one thing.  It turns out that there were, and so I will be going, and will write up the experience for BTSC.  But the other question I put to the marketing director, which is who they steered me to when they realized that they had a wacko on their hands, was where they got their information about the female fan base.  Are we really the largest in the NFL?  How do they know that?

The marketing director told me that the information came from a survey taken in 2006.  He couldn't remember the details, but he was quite sure I would be able to find it online.  And so I did.  It turns out that the numbers were pretty interesting.  

Here is the basic information, from the original AP article of September 2007 that reported the findings:

"According to a Scarborough Sports Marketing survey of 220,354 residents in 75 United States markets conducted last year, Pittsburgh has, by far, the largest base of NFL fans who are women. Pittsburgh is the runaway leader, with 34 percent of the women living in the Steelers' market identifying themselves as fans. Green Bay was second with 29.4 percent, but no other market surveyed had even one-quarter of its women identify themselves as fans.

Buffalo was third with 23.7 percent, followed by Cincinnati (22.8 percent), Kansas City (22.4 percent), Jacksonville (21.7 percent), Baltimore and Boston (21.5 percent) and Denver, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C. (20.9 percent).

Nationally, the average was 16 percent, which means that Pittsburgh has more than twice the number of female pro football fans than the average market, based on the survey's results.

Obviously, all those Terrible Towels inside Heinz Field aren't being twirled only by men."


Well, anyone who has ever gone to a game in Heinz Field would have had a hard time missing that fact.  And one of the more interesting nuggets from the survey was that the number of male fans in the area wasn't substantially larger - like 38% men to 34% women.  So does this mean that there are almost as many football widowers as widows in Pittsburgh?  Certainly in my house I'm the one holed up watching the game, and ignoring my husband when he sticks his head in to ask where he can find the tin snips or the bacon or whatever.


One other thing that occurred to me as I pondered this was that the survey only questioned people "in the market," as far as I could tell.  Therefore it measured Steelers fans who live in the area, but not those who live in another "market," like, say, Dallas, because if they weren't Cowboy fans they wouldn't register.  It would be really fascinating to have a survey in which people were allowed to identify with an out-of-market team if they wished.  I suspect that the fan numbers would look even more impressive for Pittsburgh, and I wonder whether the proportion of male to female fans would change in that case.

I spent some time looking for more recent studies, without success. I did come across various interesting things having to do with female football fans.  I may share some of the additional information in another post later in the season, but for now I want to ponder a question that some of you may have some anecdotal evidence for, one way or the other.  And that would be whether "the troubles," as the Irish might say, have adversely affected the female fan base numbers significantly.  There were certainly plenty of fans, both men and women, who were calling for Ben's head back in the spring.  So the next question would be whether those fans who were so very vocal will still feel that we should have traded him if we are 7-1 five weeks from now.  And would it make a difference if we are 6-2, or, heaven forfend, 4-4 at around midnight on November 8th?  

I was interested to see that there were a great many #7 jerseys in the stands at Latrobe this summer, and a lot of them were on women.  (One of them was on me, for that matter.)  Ben signed autographs almost every day I was there, and I didn't notice anyone refusing to accept an autograph - quite the contrary. The fans that go to training camp are probably not an entirely representative sample, though.

I haven't heard this sort of thing lately, but for a while there seemed to be constant "man (or woman) on the street" interviews that indicated that a large portion of the local fanbase was seriously displeased.  Of course, like most things involving people, there are undoubtedly a number of reasons for the attitudes that those interviewed held, and therefore it is pretty hard to generalize.  But it would be interesting to know whether, in the aggregate, the off-season antics of our quarterback has harmed the way the organization is viewed by a significant fraction of their fanbase.  If so, it would be interesting to know whether the distribution roughly follows gender lines.  If I had to make a guess, I would say that the way the Rooneys handled the situation managed to minimize the damage, given that it did appear to force Ben to confront his behavior, and apparently help him to change it.  And I can understand that the Front Office probably isn't keen to commission a survey to find out, in case it didn't mollify the public as much as they hoped.

I would like to note that when I started to write this article I didn't intend to say anything about the Ben situation, but I realized that it would be pretty hard to discuss the female fan base without acknowledging the awkward situation the franchise found themselves in because of said antics.

But in the meantime, here's to what still may be the "number 1 female fan base in the NFL."  And, interestingly enough, when I checked this evening, the website notes that the Ladies Night Out is now sold out...