Why Do Girls Like Hockey?

Hello, my name is Lauren and I’m a female hockey fan.

Last week, Danny Ecker of Crain’s Business wrote an article about the fact that 38 percent of Chicago Blackhawks fans are female, up from 28 percent five years ago. While I love to hear that the Blackhawks’ female fan base has grown, his surprise at the increase (“one of the most dramatic increases in the team’s fan base has come from a demographic you might not expect”) and his stereotypical and unresearched explanations rubbed me the wrong way.

Is it really that surprising that 38 percent of Blackhawks fans are female? Back in 2010, Scarborough Sports Research released demographic data for six major sport leagues, and women made up between 36.4 and 41.3 percent of the fan base for each.

Regardless of his surprise at the current figure, the numbers do show a big jump in the percentage of  female Blackhawks fans in a five-year period, and I agree that’s worthy of examination. Of course, just looking at the percentages can’t tell the entire story. I do not have access to the full Scarborough reports for the Chicago market, but I’d be interested to know what that increase looks like in terms of the number of female fans the Blackhawks gained over that timeframe, and how that compares to the number of male fans gained. Assuming Ecker has access to those reports, he would also be able to look at other information about those female fans, such as their age and media habits, which could have better informed the rest of his article.

So let’s talk about why the Blackhawks have so many new female fans, or at least why Ecker believes that they do.

Reason No. 1: Pinterest. Not only do the Blackhawks have a Pinterest page, they have the most Pinterest followers in the NHL at a staggering 7,100+ pinners. As Ecker points out, Pinterest’s user base is 80 percent female, so how brilliant is it that the Blackhawks are reaching new fans on this XX chromosome paradise of a social network?

I think it’s a fair assumption that the Blackhawks increased their female fan base by a lot more than 7,240 fans. Actually, presuming that only 80 percent of the team’s followers are women, that number is more like 5,792 (a quick scroll through the Blackhawks followers does show good amount of guys in the mix). Compare that to Facebook and Twitter, two social networks that also have more female users than male (52 and 50 percent, respectively).  On Facebook, the Blackhawks have 1.4 million likes. On Twitter, more than 450,000 fans follow the team. If we estimate that their social media fan base mimics the percentage of male-female fan in the Scarborough data, that means 532,000 women on Facebook and 171,000 on Twitter. Even if the team’s social followers skew more male, a significant window exists that makes it obvious that a lot more Blackhawks female fans follow the team on Facebook and Twitter than on Pinterest.

To me, the fact that the Blackhawks have a Pinterest page demonstrates that they are making an effort to stay connected to a subset of their existing female fan base. From looking at their social media pages, it’s clear that they do not put as much effort into posting on Pinterest to compared to Facebook and Twitter, with just a few new pins over the past several days. And why should they? The Blackhawks can reach a much larger audience, male and female, on the other social network sites, which are proven to bring results for sport teams. A recent Catalyst study on sport fan social media engagement did not even include Pinterest in their results.

Reason No. 2: Hot Guys. Okay, this was a sexist insinuation on Ecker’s part, but I’m not going to try to argue that it is completely unfounded. Are there women who are hockey fans because they think the players are hot? Sure, just like there are men who like women’s anything because of the attractive athletes. But not all women are fans of a sport solely because of how hot the players are.

My biggest issue with this statement, however, is this: How is this new? Were there not hot hockey players on the Blackhawks five years ago? Considering that the example of hotness that Ecker uses in his article is Patrick Sharp, it turns out that there was at least one good-looking player on the team way back in 2008: Patrick Sharp. Sharp has played for Chicago since the 2005-06 season. Unless he has undergone reconstructive surgery to improve his looks since that time, can we agree to rule him out as a reason for this increase in female fans?

Ecker does also point to Sharp’s participation on a women-friendly radio show, which is one of the more valid suggestions he makes. If the Blackhawks are using their players in the media to specifically target female audiences, that definitely could lead to an increase in female fans.

Reason No. 3: Young Hot Guys. Ecker points out that six of the Blackhawks’ star players are under the age of 25, which helps the team connect to a younger fan base. Which would be great if we were talking about the age of the Blackhawks fan base, but this an article about the team’s female fans, right?

Going back to my question earlier about what other stories the data can tell, I would be interested to know what the numbers say about the demographics of these female fans. If the increase in fans is coming significantly from the 18-24 age group, then maybe he has a point about the young players. Then again, maybe not. The 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks have the seventh oldest roster in the NHL, at an average age of 28.79.  And just like with attractive hockey players, young hockey players are not a new phenomenon. The average age of an NHL player has actually increased slightly since 2008-09, and two of the players Ecker mentions were on the Chicago roster at that time. In fact, more than 20 players age 25 or younger dressed for the Blackhawks that season.

Reason No. 4: Higher Ticket Prices. While some of Ecker’s other comments came off as sexist, this one baffled me the most. He took a quote from Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, which had originally appeared in a different article in a different context, and applied it to his own logic about why the Blackhawks have more female fans.

In the original story, Wirtz addresses the justification behind a jump in the team’s ticket prices, saying the Blackhawks had been one of the lower-priced tickets in the league and need to raise prices to succeed. He mentions that one result of raising prices has been eliminating the “brawlers,” saying:

As the tickets are more valuable, our fan behavior is becoming better. When the tickets didn’t have the same value or they didn’t look at the team as much, many times it would be an element of people who wanted to come to the United Center just to cause trouble and get in fights. We don’t have that.

Ecker took that quote and applied his own logic to determine that higher ticket prices lead to more female fans. Because the atmosphere at the United Center is more “family-friendly,”  obviously that must be a reason more women support the team. Because only women have families? Because dads don’t care if it’s safe for their kids? Because fewer women had an interest in hockey when there were fights in the stands?

Besides the sexism implied in equating “family-friendly” with “women-friendly,” I’d argue that higher ticket prices have made Blackhawks games less family-friendly. While a decrease in drunken brawls certainly contributes to a more kid-appropriate atmosphere, an increase in prices makes it harder for the average family to attend games (in 2010, the Fan Cost Index for a family of four to attend a Blackhawks game was $350.58, the sixth highest in the league, though the average ticket price ranked 15th in the league). Growing up in Pittsburgh, our family attended many more Pirates games, with $5 adult and $1 child general admission tickets, than any of the other local sport teams, despite being fans of them all, because they were more affordable.

As a former journalism student, I am disappointed in Ecker’s lack of facts and original reporting to back up his story. As a sports marketer, I am disappointed in the missed opportunity to present information that would have been interesting and useful to the readers of Crain’s Chicago Business, as well as to sports marketing departments across the country. By talking to the Blackhawks marketing team, a sport marketing professor from a local university or, I don’t know, even an actual female Blackhawks fan, Ecker could have provided some insight on the increase in women fans.

As a female hockey fan, I am disappointed in his stereotypical view of who I am. Yes, I have a Pinterest account with an embarrassing number of pins (5,377). Yes, I have had crushes on a variety of hockey players over the years (Paul Coffey, Aleksey Morozov, Jordan Staal). But my reasons for loving hockey are likely similar to many male hockey fans. I love the speed and intensity of the game. I love the mix of agility and power. Most of all, I love sitting on the edge of my seat, watching for that puck to cross the goal line.

I am a female hockey fan, and I know many others who are too. I know Blackhwaks fans and Penguins fans, Capitals fans and Sabres fans, Stars fans and Flyers fans. We are all unique and discovered the sport in different ways. No one article could explain how each of us became fans and what makes us love hockey. But none of us comes close to fitting in the picture that Ecker paints of us. Just like the guys, we just love the sport.

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Working in Sport Marketing

I recently was interviewed by Brian Clapp of WorkInSports.com about what it takes to work in sport marketing. The interview covers my educational background, career path, advice for interns and thoughts on women in the sport industry.

Read the full article…

Sports Internships: Paid vs. Unpaid

The debate over unpaid internships has been louder this summer than I ever remember, and I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone discussed the issue in the sports industry. This morning, Kristi Dosh (aka SportsBizMiss) hosted a conversation on Twitter that turned into a rather heated debate. I responded via Twitter, but 140 characters can’t do justice to how I feel about this topic.

I worked four internships during my college career: two as an undergraduate and two as a graduate student. Three were in sports and one was for a museum. Only one was paid, and if I had the opportunity to go back and do everything over again, I wouldn’t even consider giving one of them up. Do I wish the other three had been paid? Could I have used the extra cash? Sure, but even if they had been paid, both the experience and the resume-building I received would have far outweighed the short-term financial reward.

Two of the main arguments against unpaid internships are that companies are taking advantage of free labor and that unpaid internships automatically exclude those who cannot afford to work for free. The second point in particular I agree is a problem; however, eliminating unpaid internships will mostly serve to reduce the number of internships offered. I think a different solution is needed to address that issue, but in the meantime I believe there are ways to make unpaid internships work, even without a great financial support system.

Since I attended grad school four years after finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I was at two different stages in my life, financially speaking, when I worked my internships. As an undergraduate, I was the oldest daughter of a father who struggled financially and sacrificed greatly just to help send me to the college of my choice. As a graduate student, I was a newly married 26-year-old who gave up full-time employment to make my dream of working in sports come true. Here’s how I made it work:

Not having an internship during the summer between my junior and senior year of college was not an option for me. I viewed this as something that was imperative to my chances of landing a job after graduation. Yet even as I applied for position after position the spring semester of my junior year, my father and I had numerous conversations about what the logistics would be. Many of the positions I applied for were unpaid. Ideally an internship in my hometown would be most affordable, but I attended school out of state, and was having better luck getting interviews there. How would we manage an unpaid, full-time position for me, especially if I was not living at home?

I had started working literally on my 16th birthday (not counting the babysitting since age 12). My dad drove me around to fill out job applications a couple weeks before my birthday, and when the local supermarket called me in for an interview right away, I was so afraid that I had blown my chances when they realized I hadn’t even turned 16 yet. Ever since then, my paycheck had been part of paying for the family expenses, especially the cost of attending college. Even with scholarships and grants and maxed-out student loans, we still had more tuition bills to pay.

I ended up with a full-time unpaid position at a museum in Indianapolis, my boyfriend’s hometown located 45 miles north of my college. After looking at apartments and realizing there was no way that was going to work, his grandmother offered to house me for the summer in exchange for doing some household chores. I originally offered to get a part-time job on evenings and weekends, but ultimately my dad decided to spare $100 a week, which was enough to cover gas and food.

Certainly there are many less fortunate than me, whose parents cannot afford any cash to help or who don’t have anyone to board them for free. But I could have worked part-time if I had needed to, and I would have had to make a different decision as to where I could intern if I hadn’t had a place to stay. I ended up with a paid position in our campus recreational sports department as a public relations assistant during my senior year, and having those two internships on my resume as well as a binder full of portfolio pieces helped me graduate with a job offer from an advertising agency.

A few years later, with four years of marketing communications experience under my belt, I decided to pursue a career in professional sports but I had no luck in even getting interviews for jobs. I made the decision to return to school to pursue a Master’s degree in sport management, choosing an online program that would allow me to take a job anywhere if the opportunity arose. A year into the program, I was learning a lot but still not landing interviews. Then I applied for an unpaid internship.

I was 27 years old and less than two years into my marriage to my college boyfriend. I was fortunate that he had a decent job and that I could do freelance work to bring in some money as well. Still, it was a sacrifice, and one that I was not even sure would pay off, to take the job with an independent minor league baseball team 50 miles from our apartment.

My boss recognized that I was overqualified for the team’s typical internship and gave me more responsibility than the position required. I managed the schedule for all of the interns working in marketing and promotions, since we all worked part-time. I wrote game stories and press releases and served as part of the promotions crew on the field. I also did the typical menial internship work, from data entry to ticket delivery to post-game clean up.

At the end of the season, I moved straight into another unpaid position with a minor league hockey team, this one 70 miles from home. And suddenly an amazing thing happened: teams started calling me back. In the few months that followed the completion of my baseball internship, I got an interview for one out of every three jobs that I applied for. Three months later, I received two job offers on the same day.

I was bitter that the five years of real-world, non-sports marketing experience meant nothing to these teams. Even my graduate studies, which I was still nine months away from completing, weren’t enough to get me in the door. But two part-time, unpaid internships were.

For the past four years, I have been on the other side of things. As a hiring manager, I have witnessed the sheer number of applicants for internships with a sports team, both paid and unpaid. For full-time positions, it’s even greater.  I’d imagine the number of people who get a job with a team without an internship in the industry are few and far between. Yes, it puts those who cannot do an internship at a disadvantage. But rather than eliminating unpaid positions, I’d push for more financial assistance or, at the very least, guidance for those who need it.

I worry what happens if this unpaid internship movement pushes toward law. If unpaid internships go away, undoubtedly the number of internships diminish, especially in the sports industry. Already students are competing with recent graduates and others looking to make a career change across the country for a limited number of positions. What happens when there are fewer internships available?

People argue that employers are taking advantage of free labor; that paying interns is just a drop in the bucket in their overall budget. I am sure for some businesses out there, this is true. But anyone who has worked in sports knows the reality of the business. Many teams do not make money and most have very slim profit margins. If teams have to pay their interns, many will do without or at the very least reduce the number that they hire.

I think the focus in this debate should be in helping qualified candidates who cannot afford to hold unpaid positions find ways to make it work. We should also focus on making sure that internships provide valuable, educational experiences. To me, whether or not you receive credit for them, internships are as important if not more so than college classes. Yet we pay for college classes and demand pay from internships.

More than likely, none of my three unpaid internships would have existed if they were required to be paid. I know for sure neither of the two with sports teams would have been. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

Tips for Applying for Jobs on TeamWork Online

If you are looking for a job in sports and you don’t know about TeamWork Online, you have probably been living under a rock. In my opinion, it’s the best job search tool out there for the industry, especially for professional sports, AND it’s free (though there is a paid option that gives you some additional features).

The site is pretty easy to use (browse jobs, apply online, save your profile for future jobs so you do not have not re-enter data). However, after a few years on both the job hunting end and the hiring manager end, I’ve picked up a few tips that can make TeamWork an even more effective tool for job hunters.

  1. Subscribe to the RSS feeds. You can sign up for the email alerts or follow them on Twitter, but in my opinion the RSS feeds are the best way to track the latest openings. You can mark the reviewed ones as read, and check them daily to keep on top of your job hunt. Which will help you with tip No. 2…
  2. Apply right away. A job may be left open for applications for as little as a week. Plus submitting your application in a timely (but well executed of course) fashion shows a seriousness about your job hunt and expresses your interest in the job. And, I’ll be honest with you, hiring managers get tired reviewing resumes after a while–why not be in their first stack?
  3. Upload a general resume. It surprises me how many people don’t realize that TeamWork only allows you to upload one resume in the system (I can’t event count the number of resumes I’ve reviewed with a career objective to work at a completely different team). While I normally suggest a resume that is appropriately tailored to each position, TeamWork Online is not the place for that. Create one that is appropriate for the range of sport positions to which you plan to apply. (Oh, and while we are at it, PLEASE save your resume as a PDF!)
  4. Personalize your cover letter. Unlike the resume, your cover letter is the place to let your interest in this particular job shine. Do some research and figure out who the hiring manager is and address the letter to that person. Talk about why you are qualified for this specific position.
  5. Stand out from the crowd. The best part about TeamWork is that you can apply for so many positions in one place. The worst part is that everyone else is doing the same thing! I once interviewed for a position for which the human resources director told me that she received 500 applicants in one week on TeamWork. Following steps 2 through 4 are important parts of standing out, but you can do more. TeamWork offers a paid MVP account (which I haven’t used myself) that is one way you can supplement your application. Personally, I would link to my own website, where I had work samples and recommendations. The idea here is to do something that makes them spend more than just 30 seconds scanning your application.
  6. Follow up. Applying through TeamWork Online is a rather impersonal experience for the applicant and the employer. Reach out to the hiring manager outside of TeamWork when you can. Send a follow up email with your resume attached (here’s where you can include a tailored resume) and mention that you applied on TeamWork. Depending on what type of position you are applying for, you may want to send a hard copy resume that includes work samples. Again, you’re helping yourself stand out from the crowd.

Anyone else have any tips for applying for jobs on TeamWork Online?

Should I Major in Sport Management?

A former colleague of mine has one piece of advice whenever she is asked to speak to a group of sport management students: don’t major in sport management. I don’t take such a hard line on the subject, but I do think there are some important things to consider when choosing your major as an undergraduate.

The main point that my colleague makes is that by majoring in something as specific as sport management, you are pigeon-holing your future career opportunities. First of all, at 18 or 19 years of age, a lot of us think we know what we want to do with our lives but few of us actually do. Working in sports may sound cool, but trust me, not everyone loves it. Long hours and little pay, especially early on in your career, might eventually convince you to look at another industry. Plus, you may end up discovering a passion or a talent for something else entirely. The same can be said for any major that you choose, but think of the perception that hiring managers outside of the sports industry might have of a sport management degree. They might not understand what applicable skills you learned, or worse, they might dismiss the value of this line of study.

But that’s okay, because you are 100 percent sure you want to work in sports. No way are you changing your mind about this. Good for you! Let’s talk numbers. According to the North American Society for Sport Management, there are 294 U.S. colleges and universities currently offering undergraduate sport management programs. Now I don’t know how many students are graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sport management each year, but for the sake of estimating, let’s say each program averages 30 graduating seniors per year (and that’s probably a conservative number). That’s 8,820 new sport management graduates every 12 months. That’s a lot of people to compete against for jobs in a very small industry–and that doesn’t count all of the non-sport management majors also applying for those positions.

I’m not trying to scare you away from your chosen career or major choice here–well, not completely anyway. The truth is, though, not all sport management majors are going to end up working in sports. There just are not enough jobs. In other posts, I’ll talk more about ways you can improve your chances at getting one of those positions, but for now, considering that fact is important in your decision about whether or not to major in sport management. If you don’t get a job in sports, will your sport management degree help you find gainful employment? Maybe.

If you already know what area of sports business you want to focus on, you can choose to major in a subject that closely aligns with that career path, for example, marketing, sales or communications. As a hiring manager, I have probably seen more qualified candidates for internships and entry-level positions with majors other than sport management. You can always minor in sport management to keep a focus on the sports industry.

Or, you can follow your dream and major in sport management. If you choose this path, I recommend two things. One, choose your school carefully. Look at the types of courses offered in the sport management program and consider how much practical training you will get to prepare you for a job in the sports world. Two, find a minor (or more) that supplements your sport management degree with some real-world skills. In the end, everything comes down to making yourself marketable for jobs after graduation. Taking classes and gaining experience in a field like business, marketing, sales, public relations or journalism will only benefit you.

In the end, choosing a college major is a personal decision. Ten (or maybe even five) years after graduation, your undergraduate major may have little impact on your career. But it can play an important role in your internships and first jobs out of school. College is definitely a time to explore subjects that interest you, but take the time to think about what role your degree will play in the next few years of your life before making a selection.