The Sexist World Of Sports Marketing


We have a problem when it comes to the relationship between women and sports marketing.

Yesterday, the Houston Astros, the worst team in Major League Baseball at 43 games out of first place, announced that September 27th would be “Astros Ladies’ Night” at the ballpark. Here’s how they promoted it (emphasis mine):

Presented by State Farm, is a women-only event that allows our female fans to get the inside scoop on the Astros, learn about the game of baseball, and meet some of the Astros staff and players. The event starts at 4:00 pm with a ‘Baseball 101‘ talk, followed by a happy hour event themed ‘Diamond, Bling and Glittery Things’ with music, specialty drinks, exclusive Ladies Night gift courtesy of State Farm, group photos with Astros players, and complimentary beauty treatments.

Now, I like a good complimentary beauty treatment as much as the next gal (and I’d love to meet professional athletes… unless they’re on the Astros, because, I mean, that barely counts), but framing this event as a “this is how to teach ladies about baseball” clinic follows an all-too-frequent trend of marketing down to women when it comes to sports. When the Astros held a “Guys Night Out,” they didn’t offer “Baseball 101” talks.

This is a trend frequently employed for pieces of marketing designed to run along side events. Watching the coverage of the Indianapolis Colts vs. the San Francisco 49ers this past weekend, two things popped to mind: 1.) the ads that ran during the broadcast were some of the most low brow, sexist pieces of marketing creative in current rotation; 2.) I’m not sure the 49ers should have shipped Alex Smith away, this Kaepernick guy isn’t cutting it.

Why aim your marketing at the most dudebro of audiences? Conventional wisdom might lead you to believe that it’s only men who watch the NFL, but that’s not even true. 45% of NFL fans are women. Perhaps a more middle of the road approach to making your marketing hyper-specific to gender might be in order?

Commercials for DirecTV that play up the stereotype of a wife keeping her husband away from the TV when all he wants is to enjoy the glory that is an NFL Sunday, beer commercials that highlight average-looking dudes with only the token woman in the picture (see: conventional beauty, cleavage), and other gendered marketing efforts make me laugh from the standpoint of both a viewer as well as the marketer.

Marketing is equal parts an art and a science. Create an attention-grabbing piece of advertising, then measure the results, using those insights to help craft future placements.

Do the marketers behind some of these pieces honestly believe that it’s worth sidestepping 45% of the viewers who will be exposed to the spot? That’s just about one of the least efficient approaches they could take. Point being, even if you ignore the issues surrounding the kind of message this type of objectification sends to young women, it doesn’t even make sense from a business point of view.

Stop assuming that women don’t understand football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer. Instead of talking at us, start talking with us. Women like sports because of the sport, not because you’ll sell us goofy pink versions of jerseys (does anyone else see a bit of irony in the fact that the NFL sells a special pink/women‘s version of Ben Roethlisberger, a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual assault?) or hold an NFL-themed fashion show.

image – Astrodome