Esther Cepeda: The NFL’s female fan base

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Esther Cepeda
September 13, 2014

CHICAGO -- What do pedicures and sparkly flip-flops have to do with Ray Rice’s unceremonious ouster from football?


Most observers credit the latest leaked video of Rice punching out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer for his new punishment. But this theory misses the rising power of the NFL’s increasingly female—and super hard-core—fan base.

The day before the now-infamous elevator video went viral, I was in line at the store behind a young woman decked out in NFL gear. From her licensed NFL Chicago Bears baby-T jersey and logo key chain lanyard to her sparkly dark blue rhinestone Bears flip-flops and precision-polished “fanicure.”

A fanicure, I learned that day, is NFL team color and logo-inspired fingernail and toenail art meant to showcase team spirit in ways only girly-girls can imagine. In 2013 Cover Girl cosmetics introduced … well, I can’t be nearly as breathless as Fashionista blogger Nora Crotty, so I’ll let her tell you.

“Nail art and … football? We can dig it. Well, now it’s easier than ever to support your favorite NFL team via nail art: Just in time for football season … CoverGirl, the newly-anointed ‘official beauty sponsor of the NFL,’ will be offering up custom-curated bundles of the brand’s Nail Gloss polish based on your favorite team’s logo. The collab comes as the latest in a recent string of attempts made by the NFL to appeal to the largely untapped market of fashion-and-football-loving fangirls—remember that Marchesa collab?”

The collaboration she refers to was reported on by Fashionista in the fall of 2012, when New York Jets T-shirts were fancied up with Swarovski crystals. At the time, blogger Cheryl Wischhover asked, “Will this girly football thing catch on among lady football fans?”

Oh, yes. Very much so.

Lady football fans are big in numbers, big in their passion for teams and super big in fanatical spending.

I’m not sure when, exactly, the NFL got its hooks into my mother, but in the last decade or so she has become as knowledgeable, as passionate and as rabid a fan of the Dallas Cowboys as my father.

My sons and I own a wide selection of pricey, officially licensed Cowboys jackets, sweatshirts and even jewelry. This blue-and-silver America’s Team booty is delivered to us at the conclusion of every one of my parents’ trips to cities where the team plays, or to the mecca of Cowboy fandom, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

If we lived in an area where the local supermarkets put out Cowboys-themed cakes, cookies, chip-and-dip trays and football shaped pizzas every Saturday and Sunday as our stores do for the Bears, I’m sure those would be purchased as well.

Whether we’re talking about toddlers wearing official game-day gear, young girls wearing clothing and accessories from the NFL Juniors line for tweens and teens, special manicure/pedicures or team breast cancer awareness tie-in merchandise, women are no longer merely on the sidelines of pro football purchasing power.

Back in March when Rice was charged with assault for harming Palmer, now his wife, his two-game suspension made waves but stayed predominantly in the sports press.

The fact that last week’s wince-inducing video leapt out of the sports section and onto the Twitter and Facebook feeds of so many of the very women who help make pro football the top-watched events on broadcast and cable TV is in no small part what led to Rice’s dismissal.

The entire mishandling of the saga, from when the incident occurred to its current aftermath, is landing at the feet of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is being called on by the National Organization of Women to step down in order to “restore honor and integrity to the country’s most lucrative and popular pastime.”

This sort of women-led response was nearly unthinkable back in the mid-1980s, when I was a child and the sound of the “Monday Night Football” theme song made me sad that the guys at the NFL were pre-empting my favorite shows.

Last I checked, the hashtag #ResignGoodell was taking off on various social media platforms on both male and female accounts. It makes all the sense in the world: A full 35 percent of pro football TV viewers are women, and with them, trying to turn a blind eye to domestic violence isn’t going to play well.

Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is es[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.


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