Why The NFL Is Supporting Teen Girls In Sports

Photo: Barry Austin/Getty Images.
Before 2015, an ad for a menstrual product had never run during the Super Bowl — a huge missed opportunity, since women make up 45% of football fans and 70-80% of all consumer purchases.

This year, however, Time named the Always "Like A Girl" campaign one of the top 20 Super Bowl ads of all time. Also this year, the NFL Women's Summit (with partners including Always, Secret, and Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and speakers including, well, half the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team) took Super Bowl week by storm, involving hundreds of teen girls in panels and activities to build their confidence in sports, business, and beyond. In the past two years, the Super Bowl has seemingly gone from a boy's club whose advertising space couldn't bear the sight of a single tampon to the hub of a national girl-power summit. What gives? We spoke with the NFL's Dawn Hudson and Always' Jen Davis to find out.

At first glance, it does seem like an odd pairing: a major national event for young women, sponsored by...the NFL? But the numbers don't lie: Women make up nearly half of football fans, and historically, they have not received the same quality of targeted marketing attention that the other half has. So, "this summit was really the women in the NFL wanting to reach out and do something for women," explains Hudson, the NFL's chief marketing officer. "A passion point to make a difference — to put our girl power to work in a positive way and leverage the visibility of the super bowl. Make no mistake: Avid female football fans are just as avid as male football fans."

Hudson adds that airing the Always "Like A Girl" ad during the 2015 Super Bowl was "a pretty bold move... People thought, Jeez, a whole stadium? We’re going to put a feminine care ad on the big screen? And when they did, the whole stadium erupted into applause." But the commercial's success wasn't only due to the sheer numbers of women who watch the Super Bowl and hope to see themselves reflected — somewhere, anywhere — in its advertising; the ad's content also highlighted a major issue in teen girls' lives.

"Always' mission is to stop the drop in confidence that occurs in puberty for over half of girls," explains Davis, who works with Always as vice president and general manager of North America feminine care at Proctor & Gamble. "Many of those girls never recover from that loss of confidence... Prior to that ad, only 19% of girls associated 'like a girl' with being a positive phrase; it’s now 76%."

The NFL Women's Summit is doing its part to continue that confidence-building legacy. Of this year's 400 attendees, 250 were teen girls. And although last year's inaugural summit was largely focused on inspiring girls to stay in sports, this year's summit had even wider aspirations — thanks to its location in the Super Bowl's host town. "We’re in Houston," Hudson explains, "a town that’s full of astronauts, biotechnicians, and engineers. These are areas that women statistically don’t go into so much — much like sports. So we wanted to inspire girls to open their eyes to what’s possible for them. I feel like we achieved that during the summit — but the girls themselves will be the deciders."

When asked whether young women will need to fight harder than ever for our rights and our futures (given the current abysmal state of affairs in Washington), Hudson is fiercely optimistic, insisting that "women are too successful and have too much going for them" to sit idly by and let our rights be taken away. "Women want to help women," she adds. "If we put our minds to it, we CAN change the world." On that point, we wholeheartedly agree.

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