By Kris Appel
10:52 AM EDT, May 13, 2013
I am a female sports fan. I go to games, watch them on TV, download the apps, read the stats, and buy the T-shirts. I recently heard about the launch of a new professional women's soccer league, and I started thinking about the sports to which I am attached. They are all professional male sports — plus men's college basketball — but I have never thought about why. I suspect it has to do with my age (51), which limited my exposure to girl's athletics — Title IX was just beginning to be implemented when I was in school — as well as my sports fan role model, my father. Perhaps more important, it's because I learned to love these sports before I was 20, and I'm less likely to attach to a new one.
Can I become a fan of a sport that's new to me? The Maryland horse racing industry, faced with a shrinking audience, is looking for support in new places. Growing up in Michigan, I didn't get a lot of exposure to horse racing. Can they make a fan out of me?
NASCAR is a great example of a sport that grew its female fan base. Today, 40 percent of NASCAR fans are women. It is believed that this is due to the highly social nature of the sport: days-long races, up-close access to drivers and pit crews, lots of time to enjoy with family and friends. Undoubtedly, the rise of talented female drivers like Danica Patrick and this year's first female pit crew member help immensely. Not historically a NASCAR fan, I found myself looking up Ms. Patrick's race results recently.
I wish the Maryland horse racing industry would put more effort into making a fan out of me. What have they done to lure me to the track?
A few recent events have piqued my interest in horse racing. The short-lived Animal Planet reality show "Jockeys" was a fascinating inside look at the lives of real jockeys. (Apparently I was one of only a few people who watched it, and it was canceled after two seasons.) Then there was the female jockey in the recent Kentucky Derby and also featured on "60 Minutes," Rosie Napravnik. There are other female jockeys, but there's hasn't been one in the Derby in 10 years. I watched the race and cheered her on.
But these events had nothing to do with Maryland, and I didn't notice local industry executives touting either the TV show or the rise of female jockeys. So what might local horse racing need to do to entice me and other women to watch the races? They should try doing what NASCAR did: Create a social atmosphere and treat us like knowledgeable and legitimate fans.
Here are some things they might consider to attract me to Maryland tracks:
•Create a community of female fans like the Ravens Purple club.
•Hold more female fan events; invite women to the track to learn the rules of the sport, get exclusive track tours, meet the race announcers, see the horses, and get jockey autographs.
•Actively and loudly support women jockeys.
•Sponsor more women's events that raise money for charities, and form more connections like their ongoing partnership with Komen for the Cure.
•Help finance nascent efforts to get exposure for women in horse racing, like the "Luck Be A Lady" TV series.
•Most women like to shop — give us a better line of Maryland-themed gear we can love (and not just clothes).
•Work on the tracks' public image so we see them as fun, social places to be.
•Treat us like the sports fans we are. Not all track-based events for women should be about women; they should be about horse racing.
•Realize that if we learn to love it, we will bring our husbands, brothers and sons to the track with us.
•Stop complaining about the lack of fans and recognize there are 3 million potential female fans here in Maryland.
Because women tend to be more social, I believe that drawing women into a new sport will take the involvement of women at every level: more players, more coaches, more trainers, more officiators, more commentators, more player engagement, more women-based fan activities, and more social events based around the sport. It won't happen with just TV coverage; I, for one, want to be more than a once-a-year spectator.
I'm here if you want me. But you'll have to win me.
Kris Appel lives in Baltimore. Her email is email@example.com.
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