SURELY the easiest way to bring more money into Scottish men’s football is to encourage women to come along, clicking their heels through the turnstiles.
Perhaps the big clubs don’t have the extra room; after all, Tynecastle Park has hosted a numbers of sell-outs as the Jambos marched towards the Championship title to rejoin Scotland’s elite league.
But even a modest 20 per cent increase in the number of women coming to matches would put a lot of extra cash into our national game.
So why aren’t Scottish football clubs attracting more women to home games?
Karren Brady, who is vice-chair English Premiership club, West Ham United, is someone always worth listening to.
Five years ago, I worked with her on a book project.
When she was a young woman, in her 20s, it wasn’t West Ham she was involved with, but Birmingham City, where she was appointed managing director.
She could see the attraction of making the Blues a much more family-friendly place. It was an uphill task. Her club was in the shadow of ‘classy’ neighbours, Aston Villa, and, like many clubs, hers had some fans who would cause trouble.
But, over time, Brady managed to make a massive difference and most of her management team – outwith the coaching staff – were woman.
Something similar seems to be happening at Hearts, with the arrival of entrepreneur, Ann Budge, as the club savour.
She has spoken out at least twice this season against bad behaviour by fans and an instigated a Living Wage at the club, with many of the employees benefitting – such as in hospitality – being women. Like Brady, she is correct. It helps create a better culture.
So, the sight of 30 very fit and strapping young men, in their physical prime, stretching every sinew to score goals in the Beautiful Games isn’t quite enough for the average female sports fan? They want a lot more if they are going to eschew Saturday’s retail therapy for the likes of Central Park or Arbroath’s chilly seaside ground in February.
In my view, two things are holding back the game: an acute lack of female-friendly facilities, especially proper women’s toilets, and an excessively macho Scottish culture.
One church-going elder, who is a regular ambulance service volunteer at match days, and who has been attending matches for 30 years, said she is increasingly appalled at the language and vitriol now regularly emanating from youths as young as nine and ten.
Pre-school children taken by grandparents are exposed to levels of language and aggression that is seldom witnessed in any other place. That alienates most women.
Of course, that’s not new. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was a Staypress-wearing youth with a Crombie coat, over my Ben Sherman shirt, the terracings were mobbed with what seemed like extras from A Clockwork Orange, daring opposing supporters to a ‘Square Go’.
Thankfully, today’s policing is better and the stewarding light years ahead.
While some Scottish football fans can be viewed as anachronisms, the sports fan in the US is seen as a mainstream consumer, pumping millions of extra dollars into the sports.
By comparison, the number of women watching professional sport in the United States is now significant.
And the likes of the NBA and the NFL are taking this seriously.
According a Nielsen survey, over 30 per cent of women watched the NBA basketball season in 2013, and 32 per cent watched ice hockey, which has a demographic of higher income.
Meanwhile, an astonishing 37 per cent of women enjoy watching the racing drivers of NASCAR.
Golf remains popular with women, with 35 per cent regularly watching PGA tournaments, although the figures for the Open, here in the UK and which is a sporting crown jewel event, is even higher.
Tennis at Wimbledon remains massively popular with considerable numbers of women watching it on television.
By contrast, the Scottish football figure is around ten-15 per cent.
Of course, Scottish football is not alone in its acute gender imbalance. Imelda Whelehan, writing in her book, ‘Overloaded: Popular culture and the future of feminism’ (2000), said: “Throughout history, there are few areas of social life which have been so visibly and strictly divided on the basis of gender as sport… women’s progression into this make enclave has been extremely slow and difficult.”
Yet in the United States, the NFL, that most red-blooded of contact sports, has done arguably significantly more than Scottish and English football to actively encourage women.
It has examined the subtle difference between the spectator, who actively witnesses a sporting event in person, and the sports fan, who is interested in and follows a team or an athlete.
Women represent 45 per cent of the fan base and over a third of the viewing audience, according to ESPN Sports Poll in 2011 and Nielsen Media Research in 2012.
But, while the statistics are well-known, there appears to be less information about what drives and determines women to become spectators, fans and influencers in the game.
Over 50 per cent of female spectators attend games with family and friends, with over 20 per cent attending with their partner.
But the NFL has the same issues as Scottish football in that more must be done to make the experience on match days more attractive to women.
A study of NFL female spectators showed that 38 per cent felt there was not enough variety in the branded clothing sold at sporting events, including jewellery, dresses, skirts, flip flops, purses and lingerie.
And there were not enough fitted t-shirts or jerseys for larger-sized women.
On food and drink, women felt there should be healthier and better dietary options.
On the toilet facilities, while a third said the restrooms at NFL facilities were good and clean, almost 47 per cent said they were either only ‘adequate’, with 19 per cent finding them ‘horrible’.
Many said it was also important to improve the quality of sanitary items such as paper towels and hand sanitisers.
The ‘tailgating’ culture, where fans stand at portable barbies, with a beer, in the car park before and then after the game, was felt by 60 per cent to be an equal gender event, although 28 per cent felt it was too male-dominated.
This kind of picnicking has also become a part of international Scottish rugby days, where the gender balance is much better than at football matches.
Some of the conclusions could easily be adapted for Scottish football.
The NFL has been an industry leader in the sphere of implementing marketing strategies, focusing on females.
For example, the NFL Consumer Products Department has been designing merchandising and services with a ‘for women/by women’ strategy.
Individual NFL teams have also created female-specific fan clubs and membership groups, with the like of the Baltimore Ravens developing a female fan club, called Purple, with an exclusive female membership group called Lavender Ladies.
On a wider level, the NNL Player Engagement Department has launched a Women’s Resource Initiative that ‘provides research, resources, tools and inspiration for women in the football community’.
Furthermore, it is doing much more to engage female spectators in the decision-making process, giving them a stronger central voice. It also affirms that more women must be hired into leadership positions within the NFL.
This kind of positive recruitment policy chimes well with the Scottish Government’s commitments to female quotas on boards in public life.
In some way, Scottish football is one of the last bastions of male domination.
It’s a place where guys go on Saturday to drink, eat pies and talk about their football teams.
Is it right to break this male preserve? That’s a debate worth having.
But if Scottish football really wants to market itself for the times ahead, to achieve again at the highest level in European competitions, it needs to increase the fan base, with more women taking part in the decisions.
There’s simply no reason more women can’t enjoy the games as fans, spectators and administrators.
Kenny Kemp is editor of Business Quarter Scotland and currently writing a book with a Californian entrepreneur.
* * *
In June 2014, as part of our emerging sports stars campaign, we reached out to snowboarder, Ben Kilner to offer him our help. Ben is already part of team GB, but he suffered quite a nasty injury in 2014 and we helped him get to California to train before the end of the 2014/15 season. We are sure Ben won’t fail to impress at the 2018 games.