The Best Way to Get Women to Care About Football is with Clothes

The beginning of September marks not only the start of New York City Fashion Week but the beginning of football season, which means its the ideal time for the NFL and Vogue magazine to hold a party celebrating the marriage of women's clothing and sports.

The Best Way to Get Women to Care About Football is with Clothes

This week, the organizations had a fashion show/party in Grand Central Station, a now annual event cementing a relationship between the two money-making behemoths that has been growing for some time. (In February, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour at Kimberly Ovitz’s Fashion Week show; who knows what they gossiped about?) The NFL/Vogue pairing even trickles down to the hard copy of the magazine; Vogue's September issue features features ads for the NFL's clothing line – sold at Target – that star high-end models like Karolina Kurkova and Hilary Rhoda.

According to Forbes, the NFL started making women's specific apparel in 2010 because they figured out that yes, women do watch football. In fact, women make up a whole 45 percent of NFL fans:

Women drive 70-80% of all consumer spending, and many are active NFL fans, going to games, shouting for their teams, hosting game-day parties, playing fantasy football and generally participating in much of the same activities as their male brethren.

It is true, women do generally participate in the same activities as men: eating, wearing clothes and gathering with others, which sometimes culminates in a social ritual often referred to as "partying." The NFL store has picked up on this similarity between women and men and profited off of it by making clothes that are actually different from the men's clothes they've long made a fortune off of; they're selling maternity wear and plus-size clothing now. According to Forbes, it's "fascinating" to see how clothing companies that once catered just to men have figured out that women buy things:

The reason is simple: in their role as primary caregivers, women not only buy products for themselves, they buy on behalf of their families and friends, and organize most household social activities. This creates a powerful multiplier effect. As a result, tapping into women’s buying power and embracing female “fandom” represents a multi-layer opportunity for the NFL, and gives women an opportunity to feel more connected to the game. Companies that have historically catered to a male demographic would be wise to take note.

While "men's" organizations are just recently realizing that having a vagina means you have insane buying power in the global economy, "women's" apparel lines (and sometimes just women) figured this out a while back. Victoria's Secret's PINK has NFL and MLB gear for every fan out there and has for several years now. They also sell college gear, which, while not tied to specific teams, is predominantly sold for schools that have robust sports programs.

The NFL can credit one woman for their big fashion push: Tracey Bleckzinski, the VP of Consumer Products at the NFL, named number 9 on Fast Company's list of the Most Creative People of 2013. She told Fast Company that before she got to the NFL, “When you looked at women’s NFL products, it was like a sporting goods store":

She’s raised sales of women’s apparel and accessories more than 76% over the past three years, in part with pop-up style lounges at 10 NFL stadiums last season—featuring feminine swag and proper dressing rooms. She also styled a glamorous ad campaign and is now collaborating with Marchesa and others. It’s NFL chic.

The Best Way to Get Women to Care About Football is with Clothes

Bleczinski was responsible for the "It's My Team" campaign of 2012, which featured famous faces like Serena Williams and Condoleezza Rice wearing NFL gear. An Associated Press article about the ads clarified that the clothes were not "just for game day" but included "fitted blazers, burn-out T-shirts and earrings":

"Forty-five percent of fans are female and that continues to grow," says Tracey Bleczinski, vice president of NFL consumer products. "We do have something for everyone, and this campaign aims to communicate that if you are living and wearing football, you can do it every day, year-round."

45 percent, there's that number again! Wife of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, Suzanne Johnson agreed with Bleczinski in:

"The female fan looks not only at the game, but the whole stadium experience," she says. "I have girlfriends that come with me to games on a weekly basis, and they'll ask, 'What are you wearing?'"

Johnson says she thinks female interest in football is on the rise because women like to be part of a group and a stadium — or even a family room filled with fans — has a feeling of camaraderie that adults going about their own busy lives don't often get.

Plus, NFL gear can be a conversation starter.

"I always tell single girls, you're more approachable if you're wearing your Jets clothes," Johnson says.

But before Bleczinski convinced the NFL that women would buy their products, women knew it themselves. Last fall, New York magazine's The Cut sent a photographer to a Giants game and interviewed female football fans about what they were wearing; many interviewed said they'd designed their own shoes, earrings and shirts. One, 22-year-old Shannon Sowa, said it made her happy that there was NFL apparel just for women now:

When I was growing, up I always had to wear my dad’s shirt or some man’s, but now sports clothing has become cuter. Alyssa Milano has her own sports line of clothing for women now, and I really like that.

While Forbes is billing this as a new trend, the concept of selling, selling and selling to whatever market you can was bound to get around to even a male-dominated fun house like the NFL. And though Vogue and the NFL are in cahoots right now, and the media is treating their growing relationship as though they're an odd couple, it wasn't long ago at all that the magazine was publishing helpful guides to help women get around the NFL's new weird transparent bag-size restrictions. While they may be best buds right now, they'll never really treat each other as anything more than odd dance partners, when in fact, they both want the same thing: the affection, attention and money of more people. For the women wearing the clothes and the sports, they just like what they like.

NFL Raises Its Game With Women Consumers [Forbes]