Alone in the stands


It’s not uncommon for fathers and daughters to spend an afternoon at the ball game, creating a childhood attachment to sports that extends into later life. However, my father, who recently went to Dodgers Stadium with a season-ticket-holding co-worker, called to tell me how great the food was in the ballpark suite. I asked about the game. He told me he didn’t watch any of it.

How I became an avid sports fan of all athletic contests I have no idea.

As a female in a conventionally male-dominated area of society, I am often outnumbered, even in a conversation among friends. Let’s face it, sports are traditionally a man’s world. Women have shopping and spas, what do we need with beer and hot wings?

I don’t feel Citizens Bank Park needs to start offering salads during the seventh-inning stretch, but no self-respecting female Phillies fan thinks "Ladies Night," which featured make-up advice and "fun" appetizers like chocolate fondue, is doing us justice. Nor is the new $135 five-game and all-you-can-eat buffet package for the 76ers or Flyers any way to get XX chromosomes in the seats.

Female fans — genuine fantasy-football playing, until-the-last-out level fans — fill the stands at all Philadelphia pro sports matches. I know the players’ names, and I know what a pick-and-roll is. Yet five commercials for erectile dysfunction ran during Sunday afternoon’s football game. I will never need Cialis.

Advertisers need to place their products during programming that reaches their desired audience, but the female sports fan is untapped. NBC’s rise from the doldrums can be almost entirely attributed to its recent acquisition of John Madden on Sunday nights. A strategically placed ad for the network’s then-new series "Heroes" catapulted it to the top of the charts — it’s currently the highest-rated show during its 9 p.m. Monday time slot. Competing with ESPN’s Monday Night Football, NBC locked down its female viewers. Even if only five percent of the 17.7 million watching a Sunday night game on average are women, that’s 885,000 guaranteed for Tampax.

While marketing teams overlook the loyal female fan, the stereotypical assessment men like to keep women out of the arena is a misconception. People enjoy it when others show genuine interest in what is important to them and that extends to men appreciating women who enjoy sports as much as they do. Whereas there was a time I felt an overwhelming pressure to prove my vast knowledge before I could make critical comments, I am now often invited into the conversation.

There is still a look of surprise when I know Westbrook’s stats from the other night’s game or when I said in December I didn’t think trading Iverson was the worst move the franchise could make. (He put people in the seats, but no banners on the wall.) More often than not, men are happy to have any ear to listen to the lineup for their fantasy team or why they feel Thaddeus Young is the key to the 76ers of the future.

Despite acceptance in personal circles, the pro sports broadcasts don’t get the big picture. Gayle Gardner was the first woman anchor on ESPN in 1983. Twenty-four years later, there is still no prominent female presence in sports commentary nor is there any channel with a female play-by-play announcer for men’s sports. Fine. All-male panels make sense as ex-players and coaches can provide insightful commentary. After all, they have a perspective that only comes from being on the field in the final moments. However, women pacing the sidelines to report back on injuries doesn’t fill some estrogen void in the programming. Even after 14 years at ESPN, can Suzy Kolber only relay secondhand information about Lito Sheppard’s improbable return?

What still surprises me most are women with absolutely no concept of popular sports culture. How can anyone so totally remove themselves from a pervasive aspect of American life? In my circle, there are still many that can’t sit through an entire game. I can’t sit through more than 10 minutes of "Desperate Housewives," yet even Eva Longoria has infiltrated the NBA.

More and more women are seeing the appeal of men’s pro sports. The game is about competition, excitement and winning, but it is equally about socializing and friends.

While NFL’s Football 101, which proposes to teach women what men are talking about, is belittling to someone like me who has watched the game since age 9, at least more woman are looking to become part of the conversation. Maybe I will no longer have to explain what a touchback is to my girlfriends.

Overall, female sports fans have a pretty sweet deal. I’m expected to know nothing and every play I call or conversation I hold is (unnecessarily) impressive to men. For single women, groups often have overwhelming proportions in your favor. And arenas are probably the last place on earth where I don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom.

Andre Iguodala, pictured here in last week’s game against the Nets, is coming off a career-best season of 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.