NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Football League wants to court women viewers as a major source of new growth, but is still working out the best strategy to attract them to a traditionally male-oriented competition, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday.
Market research conducted by the largest U.S. sports league found that women sports fans want marketing addressed to their interests but don't want to feel like they are being treated differently from men, Goodell told the Reuters Media Summit in New York.
"It's a very big initiative," he said. "(Women) fans want to be treated as real fans because they love the game and they understand the game and they want to have the opportunity to experience the game just as anyone else does."
While women comprise about 40 percent of the audience tuning in to the NFL's Super Bowl annual championship game, media watchers note the broadcasts fail to speak to that substantial set of viewers.
Commercials during the game, the most expensive television advertising event of the year, are dominated by beer, car and electronics ads that often rely on fraternity-style humor believed to appeal to men.
Goodell said the league's key goal throughout is to reach new audiences not just for the Super Bowl, but through an entire season.
"We want to try to reach out and figure out how we get those ... casual fans to become more aggressive fans and feel comfortable doing it," he said.
"We think absolutely the female audience is a big potential for us as well as the Hispanic audience and some of the other international opportunities."
Marketing experts say world sports leagues and their advertising partners have yet to mine the potential of women audiences.
Record numbers of women tuned in to the World Cup soccer tournament earlier this year, but many advertisers overlooked the trend and almost exclusively pitched male-skewed brands.
On the flip side, U.S. stock car racing league NASCAR has built a marketing strategy of attracting women fans as well as men, touting its races as events geared for the entire family.
Goodell said the NFL has had early success with a line of merchandise geared for women fans.
"It has probably been our biggest growth area over the last several years," he said.
(For more coverage of the Reuters Media Summit, please see our MediaFile blog at blogs.reuters.com/mediafile)