I’ve been interested in sports my entire life. And while I’ve always loved the drama of football, I could never choose an NFL team to root for. That all changed with the retirement flip-flopping of Brett Favre, the record-shattering quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. After one of his many retirement attempts, Favre tried unsuccessfully to keep his starting position from his backup, Aaron Rodgers. By the time Favre and Green Bay finally parted ways, it was on bad terms. During the whole ordeal, Rodgers took the high road and said he only wanted what was best for the team. I admired that, and I wanted him to succeed. By the end of his second season, which ended in a heartbreaking loss on a Rodgers interception, I knew there was no turning back: I was all in on the Green Bay Packers.
The old adage that only men watch football is completely outdated. There are not only more women watching, but also more merchandising and messaging focused on us. This is no longer just a space for beer, truck and potato chip ads. The NFL understands that women account for about 45% of their overall fan base. An eMarketer study of TV viewers compiled the summer of 2013 shows that 47% of women age 25–44 enjoy watching pro football on television. A similar study in 2009 showed that about 29% of women considered themselves NFL fans. The growth in the female audience has made the NFL and women-focused industries take notice.
When actress and avid baseball fan Alyssa Milano wanted to support her favorite team, she was surprised to see there weren’t any jersey sizes made for women. She fixed the problem by launching her own line of apparel, Touch, in 2007. Featuring collections for the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL teams, Touch was one of the first steps toward making games and apparel more appealing to women.
Milano’s thinking was quickly embraced by the pro sports leagues — especially the NFL. Representing and promoting the most popular sport in the country, the NFL continually seeks new marketing opportunities to expand their reach. Women’s apparel is just one more profit-generating avenue to explore.
The NFL is a juggernaut. Even with a $765 million lawsuit settlement with former players over the medical complications they face after retirement, television ratings for week 1 of this season were among the highest seen by NBC, CBS and Fox for an opening weekend. As ratings continue to rise, making NFL games among the top-rated overall programs on a weekly basis, NFL viewership will continue to reach an audience that is almost half female. As a result, they are investing more and more in creating marketing programs geared toward women. But their efforts don’t always reach the goal line.
One NFL spot last year highlighted their women’s clothing line but missed the mark by directing their efforts at men. The message it shared: Here’s how to make the little lady (I paraphrase) in your life happy with her own gear. Recognizing their failure, they revised their game plan and, in 2013, hit the airwaves with a new ad. This time they got it right. Featuring a gritty, motivational speech that John Harbaugh — aka the coach of reigning Super Bowl champs Baltimore Ravens — gave his team in 2009, the ad uses female-empowering visuals to drive home the message that women can do anything. And we can (including but not limited to giving the NFL a highly lucrative consumer segment to pursue). This ad, with its tough, dark feel, is the antithesis of their initial approach to women’s clothing, which embraced all things pink and white.
It’s not only the NFL that is working to promote their products to women. Even fashion magazines and cosmetic companies have gotten into the sport. Cover Girl has released a new nail polish campaign that features manicures in team colors. They’re using Twitter hashtags like “#fanicure” and “#nailgating,” and their mobile site promotes every team with official colors and design ideas that are easy to purchase.
In the September issue of Marie Claire, readers received a “Savvy Girl’s Guide to Football” starring sports enthusiast and actress Minka Kelly. The guide provided a football terminology glossary for those new to the sport plus tips on what to wear and which recipes to cook when hosting game parties. Other national brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Old Navy have also promoted sports team-themed lines of women’s clothing. The fact that major players in industries separate from the NFL are trying to tap into the sport’s popularity with women speaks volumes.
Suffice it to say, this formerly “boys-only” arena holds tremendous marketing potential for brands to profit from female fans — especially when you consider that most of these women control the spending and finances for their families. If the category’s major players can develop an effective strategy for reaching this growing consumer base, then they can win big.