Female sports fans finding empowerment – sometimes

By Costa Maragos Posted: June 26, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Katie Sveinson at Lambeau Field to see her favourite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers.
Katie Sveinson at Lambeau Field to see her favourite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. (Photo courtesy of Katie Sveinson).

Roughrider fans are gearing up for the season opener June 27 at Mosaic Stadium.  

Katie Sveinson knows something about those fans. Sveinson is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. She’s studying the concept of fandom, including what makes a fan authentic, how we learn good and bad fan behaviours and how gender plays a role.

She’s a Riders fan - and is also a diehard fan of the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

“When I was working on my Master’s Thesis, I wanted to explore if female fans experienced feelings of marginalization or empowerment. So I started with a small study on female Rider fans. I found that the Rider community is an inclusive one,” says Sveinson, whose findings were published in Leisure Studies, an academic journal. “Those feelings of marginalization did not appear to exist, at least when it comes to the Rider fan base.” 

Based on those results, Sveinson expanded the scope of her study to include so called “displaced” female sports fans; women who cheer for a team in another location. According to Sveinson, these women felt marginalized in that they were questioned or viewed as inauthentic. Overall, their gender was emphasized over their fandom.

“My findings demonstrate the importance of community in fandom. That when you are removed from that community, that feeling of inclusiveness and welcoming may not be as easy to come by,” says Sveinson, who received funding for her thesis from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

“The participants in my thesis expressed more frustration than anything else that this stereotypical view of a female sports fan was placed on them. It’s the idea that being a fan was such a big part of their identity and that is being questioned by those who did or did not know them.”

Sveinson, however, found that the women who were questioned also experienced empowerment in their fandom. From the perspective of the participants, this empowerment stems from their ability to demonstrate their knowledge, commitment and love for their team.

Who would have thought these barriers still exist in 2015 and at a time when the number of female sports fans is increasing?

“The whole idea, even today, that women still have to prove their authenticity as fans is puzzling. The term ‘fan’ seems to have structured boundaries, as opposed to being a term that is subjective. Perhaps that is part of the problem,” says Sveinson.

Sveinson’s findings are being published in the Journal of Sport Management.

Right now, she’s working on her dissertation, with the goal of being a professor.

She is also continuing to research Rider fans with a study that is focussing on the role of clothing in sport fan experiences. Sveinson and her supervisor, Dr. Larena Hoeber, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, will conduct focus group sessions over the summer.

Come fall and the start of the NFL season, you will see Sveinson around campus sporting her Green Bay Packers jersey.