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Women Play A Bigger Role In NFL

By Shannon Prather Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Super Bowl weeekend gets underway, the NFL's "In the Huddle" Women's Summit takes place today. The gathering highlights gains made by women in football and the growing number of professional opportunities for women in sports.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Women now make up nearly half of the NFL's fan base with 86 million tuning in last season. Women also are occupying more executive offices in the NFL.

And now, they are closer to the game than ever with a small number of female trailblazers working as trainers, assistant coaches and a sidelines referee. CBS and ESPN sportscaster Beth Mowins made history this season when she called play-by-play for an NFL game.

The NFL "In the Huddle" Women's Summit on Friday at the Pantages Theatre will highlight these gains and the growing professional opportunities for women in sports. The NFL, the Minneapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and the Vikings have invited 300 Minneapolis-area female college and graduate students alongside more than 200 associated with the NFL.

NFL Chief Marketing Officer Dawn Hudson and her team started the summit three years ago.

"There are lot of career opportunities for women in sports. How do you go about developing those careers?" Hudson said.

Currently, more than 100 women are executives -vice president level or above -- with the NFL or one of its 32 teams.

Still, more work needs to be done to move more women into the pipeline to assume leadership roles, NFL execs acknowledge.

Vikings Chief of Staff Tina Holmes and three of the team's vice presidents are women. Several will speak about career development at the summit.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Minnesota Vikings Owner and President Mark Wilf also are expected to attend. Whereas as last year's summit in Houston focused on middle school and high school girls, this year's Minnesota organizers selected young women launching their careers.

"We wanted to target an audience of college-age women who are in critical stages of their lives and asking what is available? What is open to them?" said Karin Nelsen,Minnesota Vikings vice president of legal and human resources.

"I feel such a strong passion and sense of responsibility that women recognize: you can have a career in sports." Nelsen left Cargill two years ago to join the Vikings. She said she's always loved football and sports but early in her career, didn't see a path for herself or other women. Now, she's committed to showing women there is a way to work in sports.

"If they have that interest, there is a path. There are great jobs in college or professional sports," she said. Anne Doepner,Vikings director of football administration, said the changes in the league in recent years that have opened doors for women has been dramatic.

Doepner, who has a French degree from the College of St. Benedict, started as an administrative assistant with the Vikings 11 years ago and worked her way up. Doepner manages the player salary cap, negotiates player contracts and ensures the Vikings are in compliance with the players collective bargaining agreement. The Vikings recently hired their first female trainer, Doepner said.

"I've seen a lot of change and growth since I've been here -- remarkably so," Doepner said.

"There was a real show of support from the league. They realized they needed more women in those roles." subhead

The NFL has also worked hard in recent years to court female fans, especially as the league has struggled with declining ratings. Women make up 46 percent of the NFL fan base, according to league stats.

"Football is very much a campfire sport -you gather around and enjoy," Hudson said. "Women place a high value on things that bring friends and family together."

Hudson and her team created the funny and female-friendly "Football is Family" campaign. In one ad, a young woman from a family of die-hard Kansas City Chief fans tells her boyfriend, "You cannot wear a Raiders jersey to my family's Christmas dinner."

The boyfriend defies her request and the woman's mother, dressed in a Chief's jersey, leaves the dinner table in disgust.

"I thought the brand should be more human," said Hudson, explaining the campaign. "I think we should laugh at ourselves. We are an entertainment brand. We aren't solving world hunger or operating a world bank. It's an escape from real life."

Nelsen said the Vikings have worked to ensure game day is female friendly including providing private stations for nursing mothers at home games and hosting football basics boot camps for women interested in learning more of the ins and outs of the games.

"The Vikings have recognized for a long time the power of the female fan," Nelsen said. "These are not just women being drug along as a girlfriends or spouses. They are die-hard fans."

As to the negative headlines around a handful of players embroiled in domestic violence cases that could turn off female fans: "Football has 1,800 players. It's a big, broad sport. Whatever happens in society, happens in football," Hudson said. "Part of what our fans expect in the NFL is we are trying to not hide from things that happen in life and use our platform off the field to make things better."

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