NBC "Sunday Night Football" sideline reporter Michele Tafoya laughs when asked about the growing popularity of the NFL among women. Her mother-in-law has her own fantasy football team. Girlfriends text her asking for fantasy-player tips. The NFL is marketing a line of women's apparel.
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"A lot of women I know didn't feel like they understood [the NFL] before," Ms. Tafoya said. "That's changing."
Take this year's Super Bowl on NBC. More women (50.4 million) tuned in to the Big Game than watched the Oscars (24.5 million), Grammys (23.8 million) and Emmys (8 million), according to Nielsen. The Super Bowl's female audience has more than doubled from only five years ago, and the last three Super Bowl broadcasts have set records for being the most-watched shows by female viewers. The previous record was held by the 1994 Winter Olympics figure-skating showdown between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
Meanwhile, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" became the first sports series to finish No. 1 in prime time last year. The weekly telecast ranked No. 4 among women 18 to 49 years old, behind only "American Idol" (Wednesday), "The Voice" and "American Idol" (Thursday).
"The league has done a phenomenal job of reaching out to and engaging new audiences," said Stephen Master, VP of Nielsen's sports group.
The rollout of jerseys for women is just one example of this. Though the league declined to release sales numbers, league spokeswoman Joanna Hunter noted, "It's our fastest-growing consumer-products business, with double-digit growth over the past decade."
There are plenty of women who like talking about no-huddle offenses, 4-3 defenses and the latest player news. And football has also become synonymous with celebrity news and pop culture.
The recent romance between New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and Hollywood actress Eva Longoria has been followed as much by the gossip pages as the sports pages. And New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady married the world's top supermodel, Gisele Bundchen -- after having a child out of wedlock with actress Bridget Moynahan.
The game has become as much entertainment and soap opera as sport. As NBC's veteran play-by -play announcer Al Michaels said, "We have a big tent and invite everybody into it. This is not for football fans only."