Friday, November 25, 2005

Looking for a great holiday gift for your favorite football fan? Well, nothing captures the rough-and-tumble aura of the gridiron like a fuzzy fleece Redskins pullover. Or how about a lovely set of Ravens earrings?

If you’re troubled by female fans eschewing the home colors for a passionate pink, get used to it. More than $150million will be spent this year on NFL merchandise catering to the pigskin lovers with pigtails as retailers expand their line of women’s clothes to match fan interest.

More than 40 percent of NFL fans are women, and top retailers have taken notice by expanding their merchandise choices to include pink hats and jerseys, pullovers, slim tank tops and T-shirts, handbags and purses. There’s even a big line of watches and jewelry, featuring fan necessities like a Kathrine Baumann crystal helmet bag (retail price: $2,699.99) and 14K gold helmet pendant ($89.99).

And so far this year, it has paid off for retailers. Reebok, which has an exclusive contract to sell NFL jerseys, expanded its women’s NFL line by 20 percent and reports a near doubling of sales of such products. Popular women’s retailer VF, which makes a three-quarters-sleeve V-neck shirt with NFL logos, is reporting a 55 to 60 percent increase in NFL sales.

“For a long time we knew we had a respectable woman fan base, but I don’t think we’d been addressing that with our product,” said Susan Rothman, the NFL’s vice president of consumer products. “If you go back five years, if a woman wanted to show their allegiance for a team, they put on a men’s small or medium sweatshirt.”

Now, Rothman says: “They’re shopping, and they’re wearing our products. The pink jerseys have been very popular.”

The sports retail market is worth about $10 billion, with more than $3 billion of that coming from the NFL, according to Licensing Letter, a New York research and consulting newsletter. Men’s products still dominate the total sale figure because of high-end products like official game jerseys. But now one-fourth of the NFL products available cater to women.

Marketers said the league and retailers have done a good job of making products available at numerous outlets, including most sports stores and catalogs, plus a Web site,

“It’s an ideal target for [the NFL],” said Michele Miller, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based expert on marketing to women. “Women can be rabid football fans, and they are spending more and trading up for higher-level brands.”

Surveys indicate NFL football is the most popular sport among women and that 45 million women watch NFL games each Sunday. In addition, as many as one fourth of all fantasy football players are women, according to Ipsos research.

Most importantly for the NFL, research shows women control the purse strings in most households.

“They understand that women spend or influence up to 80 percent of every dollar spent,” Miller said.

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