NFL fumbles could cost it female fans

Women make up 45% of the NFL's fanbase

NEW YORK, New York (CNN) – Women are pro football’s Most Valuable Players.

It’s no secret they’ve become the NFL’s biggest growth opportunity, and advertisers love them. So will the NFL’s latest troubles keep them away? The NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice scandal could derail efforts to woo female fans.

Women make up 45% of the NFL’s fanbase, and a third of its viewing audience.

“Sunday Night Football” was the most watched program among women ages 18 to 49 in 2013. And the NFL wants to cash in. Since 2011, it has poured money into research and merchandise, even sponsoring spreads in women’s magazines like Vogue.

It’s working. An NFL survey finds 72% of female fans call themselves a “valued participant” in the league. But that feeling could change in the wake of scandal, and fans are taking it out on advertisers.

Thousands tweeted a photoshopped image from Covergirl’s NFL makeup line. The ad was altered to show a bruise.

Fans also tweeted the image of a plane flying over several NFL stadiums with the banner “#goodellmustgo”, referring to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Ultraviolet, the women’s advocacy group that sponsored the planes – says, “(The scandal) has soured the relationship with not just women fans, but women and men alike.”

But the NFL is trying to repair that relationship before its too late. The league announced Monday it’s forming a “social responsibility team” to combat domestic violence. Many advocates say it’s a good first step, but whether it’s enough remains to be seen.

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