Lady Fans

Three women attend Sporting Kansas City home games with me. I'm partial, so this post isn't about them. This post is about three other people. The Girl

Sporting won the US Open Cup in 2012. It was the first piece of hardware for the team after re-branding to 'Sporting' from the old 'Wizards' name before the 2011 season. The Cup Final was the first big match played in the new stadium.

There were 18,863 fans in the stadium that stormy August night for the final against Seattle. One of those fans was a young girl, maybe 10 years old, seated a couple of rows behind us. She cheered and chanted and yelled her support for Sporting all night long, first through regulation and then through extra time. Every time Seattle's Alonzo made yet another hard tackle, the girl would scream, "Card him! Card him!" I judged the passion in her voice to be more love of her team than hatred of the Sounders, but sometimes the difference wasn't too clear.

Sporting won on penalty kicks when Eddie Johnson sent his final try over most of the northern end of the stadium. All of us, the drunken supporters in the Cauldron and the posh people in the Shield Club and my family and the girl behind us danced and hugged and snapped picture after picture as our players celebrated on the field. We cried and applauded and sang as our heroes received their personal medals and then the team's trophy down on the field.

I don't know if the girl who sat behind us has come back to Sporting Park. I suspect she has, just with a seat elsewhere in the stadium. I'm sure she still supports her team.

The Graceful Woman

In the first tumultuous season in the new stadium, back when we first got our seats, we soon noticed an older couple seated a dozen rows in front of us. We began to look for the pair before every match. He's a little stooped, but tall and keen. She's elegant and graceful, with gray hair flowing to her shoulders. Her manner is proud and erect; just a tad formal, somehow. Every match, she stands as the teams enters the pitch and stretches her supporter's scarf above her head.

The Graceful Woman has been there in snow and bitter cold. She's been there in rain and storms and weather delays. She's been there in sweltering Kansas City summers when you stick to your seat. Her husband has missed a game or two, his spot taken by people I assume are friends and family members, but the Graceful Woman is always there.

We've never talked to the Graceful Woman and her husband--why would we trip over rows of seats to awkwardly tell them we like watching them root for our team?--but we love them both in that way fans love others who support their team. I've told my wife that I hope her future self resembles the Graceful Woman. I hope I'm like the Graceful Woman's husband a few decades on. I'm pretty sure they have years of matches ahead of them still.

The Young Bride

I tell myself stories about people around me, stories based on things I think I can deduce from their attire and demeanor. Maybe I'm full of shit, but I don't think I am, at least not all of the time. I'm pretty sure I'm right about the Young Bride who sits a little bit in front of us.

She looks young, too young to wear a diamond on her left hand, but I know my own bride was a younger woman yet when we married. The Young Bride wears an authentic Sporting jersey to every match, just like the ones the players wear. She sings and cheers for her team all match long. Her husband sits beside her in his bland polo shirt. Sometimes he checks his phone, and sometimes he sits in silence.

Other people can arrange their relationships as they like. Neither I nor my wife sacrifice to go to games for the other's benefit. There's nothing wrong with doing something mostly because your spouse enjoys it, though. It's even okay to go to soccer games because your Young Bride enjoys them.

Lady Fans

I've been annoyed recently by the way teams, sometimes even teams I love, seem to relegate the women and girls who cheer for them to a pink ghetto erected for the Lady Fans.

The Lady Fan must be some white whale of an untapped sales opportunity or something. Piles and piles of merchandise targeting women with bling and bedazzling beckon to the Lady Fans from within the shops. Special events for the femininely inclined are promoted, things like ladies' nights and women-themed events. Maybe all of that stereotyping brings commercial success. Maybe.

From my adjacent but not overlapping experience, being female doesn't mean you only buy your team's gear when it's pink. Women who are fans don't need a special night dedicated to them to come to a game. Slathering the players in pink every October doesn't mean much to the women I know who are sports fans. When you modify "fan" with "lady" if the fan in question is female, I'm not sure you really think she's a fan.

I feel more than a little weird writing this. I'm just a dude with some strong women in my immediate family and a basic awareness of the people around me. Other people, people more female than I am, are the ones that teams and the powers-that-be in sports ought to listen to when it comes to marketing to women.

I'm related to three people who know a thing or two about what it means to be a fan of team while also being a woman, but I'm biased where they are concerned and shouldn't point to them as examples. Beyond my own family, I can think of three people sports marketers might benefit from talking to. They're female, but they aren't Lady Fans.