The NFL’s brand is the strongest player in American sports. Yet the organization has continued to fumble when it comes to reaching a major portion of its audience.

While the league generates billions of dollars in annual revenue and outdraws all other US sports for TV viewing audiences, the NFL has been saddled with a number of recent controversies, ranging from fears about concussions, to increased domestic violence scrutiny, to divisive opinions about the brand’s role in political issues.

At the same time, the league has been struggling to understand its relationship with female fans. Traditionally, the NFL’s marketing strategy has focused primarily on male football fans. Marketing and advertising have typically regulated women to a secondary role and presented them as ancillary to their male counterparts. But as The Washington Post reports, women now account for 45 percent of all NFL fans, and this audience represents the league’s biggest opportunity to continue growing its fan base.

The NFL has broached marketing to women in the past. For instance, they’ve created campaigns in which teams wore pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in an attempt to curry favor among female fans. But the tone of this marketing has always featured a hint of condescension as if football’s appeal for women is different from what it offers to men. This assumption has led to some embarrassing moments for the league, and it has long been a missed opportunity to engage with the true passion of their female audience.

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