The NFL has a fan base that they can’t afford to lose.
Women made up an estimated 45 percent of the NFL’s more than 150 million American fans and have become perhaps pro football’s most valuable players. Women, and the companies who depended on them, helped NFL revenue top a record $9.5 billion in 2014. According to Nielsen demographic data, 46 percent of the 2014 Super Bowl viewing audience was female, and more women watched the game than the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys combined.* I spoke with Atlanta Falcons superfan Chariell Baisden on her fandom and her experiences as being a female fan.
How did you get into sports, particularly football? Well, I’m not a sports girl but I just happen to love football. Growing up I had a lot of family members that loved football and took the time to teach me the game. I would see my uncles and cousins getting so hype for football season so I was like, alright what’s the big deal. It was in the late 90’s, the Dirty Birds era that I actually learned the game of football and this was the best time to learn because the Falcons were beasting. Once you understand the game I feel like you can’t help but love it.
How would you describe yourself as a superfan? It stems from me being from Atlanta and just noticing the energy of the city when the team is doing well. I can appreciate anything that can brings the city together. When I go to Falcons games and sitting in the Dome I might be sitting next to any kind of person but in that moment all we’re think about is what’s going on on the field and rooting for the team together. The unity of the city that you can see through the fans of the Falcons is super dope to me. When your team is a good team and you feel like this will be the year to make some good things happen, that makes it better. There are some years and some seasons that are just trash and you don’t even want to think about or talk about. For example, Bobby Petrino and Joey Harrington era was rough. We knew they were rebuilding and there wasn’t much to get excited about. We just had to ride the bad times out so we could be there for the good times. When you are a die hard fan of a team that’s not placed in a championship, there’s something special about that teams don’t have. For a Falcons fan, you love the game and you’re with your team and your heart is in it because you want them to get there. So every season your heart is bursting thinking are we ready. Is this our year? As you’re chasing that, it adds another level to your fandom that intensifies it and makes it a little more special.
What has been your favorite fan experiences? There was period of time I wasn’t living in Atlanta. I was going to school at Howard University and I would find a way to catch the games when they would be showing them nationally, stream them or catch them at a bar but I still always made a way to get home to make it to the first and last home games of the season and I try to do New Orleans games every year. Because those games are always such big games and great moments, it’s always something new and memorable each year. My favorite moments have always come from New Orleans Saints games. Whether it’s the Saints in Atlanta or the Falcons in New Orleans, it’s just a good time. The games are always a close one. The rivalry of it…I hate the Saints as much as I love the Falcons. The atmosphere there with the trash talking aspect of it, always makes the experience exciting for me.
Another favorite moment was the home playoff games in 2012 that no one thought we were going to win, that was an amazing time to be a fan. Also the year that the Falcons got to the NFC championship even though they lost to the San Francisco 49ers; that whole post season…the city was on fire, the team was on fire. We had Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez and 2012 was the year that everybody said the Falcons would make it to the Superbowl. Didn’t quite pan out and to know what that feels like, I think everybody is aching to get back to that. We’re hoping Dan Quinn can take us there.
How was your first experience attending a game in New Orleans? My first time going to a New Orleans games was when I was 16. I have family there, so it’s usual like a big family thing. Being in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was cool but going for the first time as an adult was bomb. The Falcons fans took over Bourbon Street and we were having a good time. Walking up and down New Orleans and the different Wards talking trash all in our red and black head to toe. We made sure everywhere went they knew there was a squad of Falcons fans. Unfortunately both of those times we lost so that made the end of the trip not so fun. The first time I went and the Falcons won, it was amazing. You would’ve thought we won the Superbowl. The feelings inside of the Superdome are intense, huge, big moments…magical. Win or lose. It’s just something about the rivalry that gets your blood boiling and flowing like no other games really can.
How do you feel about Atlanta being labeled a fair weather fan city? Atlanta has a lot of die hard fans it’s just that unfortunately we haven’t been very successful, we’re still chasing that championship. To say that Atlanta has bandwagon or fair weather fans is really unfair. I see tons of us out every football season and we go hard. I think our presence isn’t really felt outside of Atlanta as it is for other fan bases like the Dallas Cowboys because the championships haven’t been there.
How do you like Dan Quinn and does Matt Ryan need to be traded? I’m enjoying Dan Quinn. Initially when I knew things were on the edge for Mike Smith, I was rooting for Adam Gase. I was not on board with Dan Quinn at first but seeing him come into his own in Atlanta I’m enjoying what he’s doing. He got a fan in me after last season He handled himself well for a first year coach. You can tell that the players enjoy having him there and that makes a difference. I’m loving everything that he’s doing right now so if he continues to grow and learn as a head coach I think he’s really going to do some great things and I’m excited to see what those are going to be.
On Matt Ryan: Matt Ryan is my favorite player. I ride hard for my quarterback. Last season everybody was talking about he needed to go and I’m like no, he’s just having a tough season. I have been riding for Matt Ryan for years because he is a phenomenal quarterback and the number speaks for themselves. You can’t let one bad season take away from all of the good things that Matt Ryan has done for the Falcons over the years. Him and Mike Smith were low-key beasting for a long time and last year was just a bad year. I need Matt Ryan to retire a Falcon.
How do you feel the about the season so far? When I saw the schedule I thought at worst we’ll do 7-9 and at best 10-6 but seeing how they’re playing I would be very surprised if they didn’t make it to the playoffs. They are playing really well and Ryan and Shanahan are finally starting to click together. This offensive scheme they have going on right now is really one of the best in the league and the numbers speak for themselves. If we can get defense to click like offense is clicking, there won’t be too many teams that can defeat us.
What are your thoughts on the new stadium? I am going to miss the GA Dome. I’ve been a fan for about 15 years and for my entire fandom the GA Dome has been like home. When I think abut home and think about football and the energy of those home games it’s always going to be the GA Dome for me. It’s going to be a difficult transition for me. I don’t think that the dome is old enough for it to be completely torn down. I get the business side of it, wanting to bring the Superbowl to the city the NFL doesn’t grant Superbowl’s to older stadiums. We should’ve had a few more years in the Dome. It would’ve been nice to see the championship banners hanging in the Dome but we’ll just have to hang them in the new stadium.
How is it being a female fan? Being woman and a football fan like I am is hard in general. It seems like no one takes your fandom seriously and a lot of times I’m having to justify why I’m a fan and this is never a question a man is asked. Being a woman Falcons fans, there’s a lot of us in the city. When I go to the games or tailgates there are just as many women there are as men. A lot of times we have to let the other fans know that we know just as much as they do which can be nerve-racking. It doesn’t take away from being a fan especially once I prove myself but I’d have to say that men need to stop asking women why they’re a fan of the game. You wouldn’t question a man. That’s such old news and women shouldn’t have to prove their fandom.
How can women be more involved in the game of football? There has to be something about the game that you actually like. I don’t think that you’re not going to become a die hard fan of football or a team if you’re doing it for the benefit of someone else. A lot women want to become the fan of a team or sport because they feel like that’s a way they can connect with their male partner. At some point it has to become personal to you. You have to have your own personal investment in a team or the sport. Go to games, go to tailgates, find a player or coach whose style you like. There are many ways to find yourself into fandom if that’s what you want to do. I have to admit that being a Falcons fan is stressful.
Chariell has another night to stress over. The Falcons take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Thursday Night Football in which Jameis Winston is 3-0 against the Falcons. Will tonight’s game finally be the game that the Falcons rise up against the Buccaneers? The last two games have been edge of your seat, nail biting good. Let’s hope Chariell’s team can add another W to the win column and leave Florida with a 3-1 record against Winston. In the meantime, Rise Up Atlanta!