By Liz Hampton
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Women comprise 45 percent of the National Football League fan base, says an NFL spokeswoman as the league focuses on attracting more young women to the sport.
A league that a few years ago was completely male dominated now has two female coaches, two female officials, three female (100 percent) owners and a female chief security officer, a small number to be sure but at least an improvement from the old days.
"We want to make sure we’re giving our fans an enriching experience and thinking about the biggest platform there is as an opportunity to bring in teen girl fans," NFL vice-president of marketing Johanna Faries said at the second NFL Women’s Summit, dubbed Plays for Life, in Houston ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl.
Women currently make up 45 percent of the league’s fan base", said Faries.
Female viewership of the NFL grew by 26 percent from 2009 to 2013, according to Athletic Business, an online resource for sports professionals, which also says that 53 million women in the U.S. watched the 2015 Super Bowl, almost half the total audience of 114 million.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have the biggest female fan base.
And high school girls are also playing the game in increasing though still small numbers.
While last year's inaugural NFL Women's Summit focused on how participation in sports can lead to success both on and off the field, this year the event focused on the importance of mentorship and chasing after goals.
“It went even bigger into the conversation of pursuing your dreams and how leaders of today can share insights, and what challenges they’ve overcome personally and professionally,” Faries said.
Professional athletes, astronauts and business leaders from Houston and across the United States took the stage in front of about 300 Houston-area girls to share inspirational stories of personal and professional obstacles they had overcome to achieve their goals.
Cathy Lanier, chief security officer for the NFL, spoke of her transformation from a teenage runaway who dropped out of high school to the first woman ever to head the Metropolitan Police Department for the District of Columbia.
Olympic gymnastics gold medalists Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, crowd favorites, were featured on a panel discussion discussing everything from the grueling schedule of an Olympic athlete to celebrity crushes.
In his opening remarks, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the importance of mentoring.
The program is just one way the NFL is attempting to reach its younger fan base.
The league soon will launch an Experienceship program, which will bring young girls and boys into NFL offices around the draft to see what goes on behind the scenes.
"It’s an opportunity to see what it’s like in the NFL .... so you can discover, is there an opportunity for me in the NFL?" Goodell said.
(Editing by Andrew Both)