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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' women's outreach program sparks huge backlash

Part of the Bucs’ announcement of the “RED” program shows women enjoying the in-stadium experience.
Part of the Bucs’ announcement of the “RED” program shows women enjoying the in-stadium experience.
Published Aug. 7, 2015

TAMPA — Like many women, when Lisa McGreevy first read an email about the Bucs' new "RED" program targeting female fans on Thursday morning, she was upset, if not infuriated.

She appreciated the good intentions in the Bucs reaching out to women, but found some of the language — referencing fashion, culinary creations and Pinterest — insulting and stereotypical.

"They took a real easy approach, and there's really no excuse, given the climate of how women feel right now in general," she said. "They can't not know that kind of stuff."

The former Bucs season-ticket holder was incensed enough that while she had planned to go to maybe four home games this year, she now may not attend any.

Then, after lunch, she got another email: Her mother-in-law had heard about the Bucs program and loved it, buying tickets to take McGreevy to the RED program's launch event next month with her sister-in-law.

"I find it hilarious that I'm sitting here having all these very strong feelings about it, and I end up having tickets," said McGreevy, who works as a technical writer in St. Petersburg.

That was Thursday in a nutshell, as the Bucs' program was popular enough that they said more than 500 women signed up in the first day. At the same time, the national backlash on Twitter was harsh, to say the least.

"Embarrassingly sexist," said a story on USA Today's website. Slate.com called it "condescending." The Washington Post said the Bucs had "infuriated" the very fans they were trying to embrace.

The regular fans responding to the Bucs' announcement on Twitter weren't any kinder. "Epic fail," wrote the first. "Terribly offensive," said another. "Big swing and a miss," one wrote.

It's only smart that the Bucs, who declined to be quoted on the backlash, would try to reach out to what is nearly half of their fan base. The NFL reports that 43.5 percent of its fans are female, and says 62 percent of all females 12 and older consider themselves NFL fans.

This year's Super Bowl averaged 54 million female viewers, making it the most-watched show by women of all time — the top six most-watched shows by women are all Super Bowls.

"RED is a groundbreaking women's movement designed to recognize and celebrate our female fan base," Glazer Family Foundation co-president Darcie Glazer Kassewitz said in a statement released by the team. "Through exclusive offerings and experiences, our female fans will have the opportunity to not only add to their knowledge of the game they love, but also to help create a community through RED and own the way they enjoy football."

Some women embraced the outreach effort — Chris Golic, whose husband, Mike, played in the NFL and now is co-host of the popular Mike and Mike radio show, hosted a "Moms Clinic" for the Bucs in March and many other NFL teams.

"I think it's great for women," Golic said. "I think there's all kinds of levels of women with regards to football. Some like me grew up around it. Other women don't really know anything about it and find themselves intimidated. It's just to make women more comfortable if they're watching a game in a social environment, to have more fun with the game of football."

Other women, even in the world of public relations, saw the intent of the program and weren't bothered by the language, even if it didn't resonate with them.

"I'm not offended," said Lizz Harmon, who has worked in public relations in Tampa for 30 years and was not involved in the Bucs campaign. "I can understand why women might be offended, because it sounds like we don't understand the game and we need to be handled with kid gloves and spoon-fed the information, but it doesn't offend me."

What offended some women were references to "gameday style tips" and "educational experiences focused on providing a better understanding of the game." The first "RED football term" introduced as a vocabulary lesson was "play clock" — for some fans, that's the kind of help the program hopes to deliver; for others, it insults their intelligence.

"There are so many ways to get people involved outside of the game without pinking and perfuming it up," said Gail Sideman, a sports publicist in Wisconsin who went to USF and worked in the athletics communications office there.

The Bucs' RED program is a year-round initiative, with a launch event Sept. 10 at Raymond James Stadium that will include an "Insider's Talk" with general manager Jason Licht, as well as surprise appearances from "Buccaneer legends."

The program comes after a difficult year for the NFL in which the league has had cases involving high-profile players and violent crimes against women, with changes in how the league handles such cases and can penalize players.

The Bucs used the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who was investigated but never charged after a rape accusation by a female classmate in Tallahassee. He also was suspended after he shouted an obscene phrase demeaning to women in public on campus.

There's a heightened sensitivity in the relationship between the NFL and its female fans.

Kelsey Frouge, a managing partner with Tampa-based public relations firm Conversa, said she's a Bucs fan and an FSU season-ticket holder. She said the Bucs' faux pas Thursday wasn't the spirit of their campaign as much as it was the execution.

"I do think there is merit and absolute value to getting women engaged with football," Frouge said. "I think it's really how you do it."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman. Contact Katie Mettler at KMettler@tampabay.com. Follow @kemettler.

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