The marketing peeps at the NFL are no dummies.
They know that 45 percent of NFL fans are … women. One-third of game attendees are women. Women *represent buying power, making up about 85 percent of household purchases. And *women's apparel and accessories is the fastest growing segment of NFL consumer product* *sales.
The league started demonstrating in the last couple of years that it understands that females are big players in what was traditionally considered a boys club.
The NFL's new awareness is female fans' big gain.
Gone are the days when women were forced to choose between pink shirts or oversized* *men's jerseys in order to wear team colors. Gone are the days that women had to look masculine to support their team.
And to that, women everywhere can exclaim, "It's about time!"
To kick off the 2013 NFL women's apparel push, the league began running a television spot during the Ravens-Broncos season opener that highlighted a series of women reciting an intense John Harbaugh speech from 2009.
"You got the hearts of lions," Harbaugh dramatically opens. "Good things, bad things, it doesn't matter, that's who you are. … And everyone's talking about what we couldn't do, and what we wouldn't do and what we shouldn't do, right? You did it week after week, day after day."
The ad showcases a blend of glamorous, yet fierce women.
Each is living life to the fullest – skateboarding, dancing, posing for pictures, riding bikes through New York City, playing with fire, and a mom talking football with a baby on her hip.
The spot ends with a hardcore girl (model Lina Esco) in a Ray Rice jersey and black vest flexing her biceps – a deliberate move away from the traditional "pink it and shrink it" approach.
"The Ray Rice 'flex' was the perfect exclamation point for the end," said Jaime Weston, the NFL's vice president of brand and creative. "You'll see a certain confidence in the women's attitude, expression and look. We set out to marry a coach's locker room speech with the spot, but not just any locker room speech, rather a speech that transcended well beyond the X's and O's of football.
"Coach Harbaugh's speech nailed it as he spoke to the team's heart, grit and determination. Having some of the women mouthing some of the words increased the overall intensity and attitude of the women."
While the league wants to target the female segment, it also doesn't want to be condescending or patronizing. It knows that the female fan base not only understands the game, but understands the attitude behind it.
Harbaugh said it was "cool" that his speech was used, but he also emphasized how impressed he is by the female Ravens fans with whom he's interacted.
"I didn't know that 45 percent of fans were women, but now that I think about it, being out around town, I believe it," Harbaugh said. "I mean, there are women that are so knowledgeable, they are really positive for the most part, they are really supportive. Women know the game – totally know the game. It's obvious to me when I talk to them.
"It's great for the NFL."
While this spot specifically highlights women's jerseys, the most iconic piece of NFL apparel, the league's efforts reach beyond that.
The league hopes to demonstrate to the historically underserved female fan base that they can now look stylish, chic, cool and attractive in football apparel. Ladies can marry their passion for football and fashion – and not just on game days.
There are expanded merchandise offerings, pop-up boutiques at stadiums, and more sizes and fits that women can feel good in – petite, plus-size and even maternity. Women are also being reached on their terms, Weston explained, with the league running ads in women's fashion magazines and putting on events like one in New York City just last week.
The NFL and Vogue magazine teamed up in a high fashion, celebrity-filled event at Grand Central Station, just prior to New York Fashion Week. Celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch was the emcee, and stars like Stacy Keibler, Vivica Fox , Lenay Dunn, Susan Lucci, and models Carol Alt and Frederique Van Dar Waal were among those in attendance, according to Forbes.
Keibler, a former Ravens cheerleader, worked with Meesh & Mia Inc., a fashion line for female sports fans, to design a collection of NFL women's apparel. She told PEOPLE that she got involved because of the lack of options women have. "I love pairing my Ravens striped boat neck shirt with a pair of wide couture pants and a blazer," she said of the photo to the right.
In addition to Meesh & Mia, other league licensees include companies like VF Corporation, Nike, Victoria's Secret, 47 Brand and Touch by Alyssa Milano, among others.
All of the NFL's efforts, including the spot, are a celebration of female fans and their passion for football, Weston explained.
"We, along with our licensees, have listened to our women fans over the years who have expressed their desire to have more apparel, cut for them in their team colors," she added. "So, over the last several years, our consumer products division has worked incredibly hard to increase the depth and breadth of our women's assortment of products."