Sport, media and gender

Anne Osborne


What was the focus of the project?

My recent research centers on sport, media, and gender. In 2016 I co-authored a book titled “Female Fans of the NFL: Taking their place in the stands.” Danielle Coombs and I theorize that fandom is best understood as an identity performance. By engaging in socially constructed scripts for fandom, one enacts their identity as a fan. We then look at how the social construction of fandom reinforces masculine gender norms and how women fans negotiate their fandom in relation to conflicts with their gender identity.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

We knew from personal experience that there are a lot of devoted female football fans. And despite claims by the NFL that women make up over 40 percent of its fan base, previous research had tended to find that women did not score as highly as men on sport identification scales. We wanted to understand why and to give voice to women fans. 

What were your findings? 

In addition to contributing to our understanding of gender norms, this book offers a new theoretical lens for examining fandom: Performative Sport Fandom. This theory states that there are two broad types of fan performances, Knowing and Caring. Rather than fandom being static, fans negotiate how they perform along these two dimensions depending on the circumstances. Women engage in complex negotiations of their fandom, largely because the scripts for football fandom reinforce masculinity norms such as aggression, heavy drinking and rowdiness. Such behaviors among women tend to conflict with gender norms for femininity. In addition, the authenticity of women’s fandom is often challenged; therefore, they often see little return on investment for engaging in Knowing fan performance. Even the most knowledgeable female fan is often discredited. 

What do you think the implications are for the discipline?

This research suggests that sports organizations should be more nuanced and less stereotypical in their efforts to attract female fans. In the context of sport, women don’t want to be treated as women who happen to like football but as fans first. They want to be respected as devoted and knowledgeable. Sports organizations and the media too often reinforce stereotypes by targeting women fans with recipes for tailgating, home décor ideas and pink fan wear. 

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

In the last year, my work has examined how mediated discourse treats athletes who do not fit neatly into the gender binary of male and female. I am currently working on a book titled,”Transgender and Intersex Athletes Within and Against Sport’s Gender Binary: Discourses of Difference.”

Female Fans of the NFL

Professor Osborne’s Book:

Female Fans of the NFL: Taking their place in the stands” (Routledge Publishing, 2015)

In the past, sport, particularly football, has been defined as a male domain. Women’s interest stereotypically ranges from gentle tolerance to active resistance. But increasingly, women are proudly identifying themselves as supporters of their teams, and have become highly desirable audiences for sport organizations and merchandisers. Football provides a unique site at which to examine the complex interplay between three theoretical areas: identity formation and maintenance, commercialization of cultural practices and gender hegemony. This book explores how women experience their fandom, and what barriers exist for the female fan.