NFL makes its pass at women

As "quarterback" of B'more Chix, an online Ravens fan site for women, Krys Renzi knows what her readers want.

After all, her site's motto is "Where Fans Huddle in Heels."

"It's: 'Where can I get purple jeans? Or how about a purple necklace? What about a coat?' " she says. "It's so exciting. You go to the tailgate lots, and that's what everyone is looking at. Women like to see what everyone else has on."

Renzi's friend, she adds somewhat conspiratorially, just scored purple cowboy boots. To. Die. For.

Women account for 45 percent of the National Football League's fan base, according to league officials. The NFL is courting them like never before — with pop-up boutiques at games, fan clubs where they feel at home and, of course, with a never-before-seen selection of team gear.

Want a team manicure? There's official NFL polish. Need a purse with purple pride? They've got that, too. Plus snow boots, espadrilles, earrings, watches and belts.

They're selling NFL panini presses that will melt the team logo right onto a sandwich. Panini. Not exactly aimed at the beer-guzzling belly-painters.

NFL officials have realized that women want to express their fandom with an extension of their fashion sense. Men might be happy all showing up to games in Ray Lewis jerseys. Women want individuality.

The cover of the look book that highlight's the latest teamwear for women says, "When it comes to football, I breathe it, I live it, I wear it, and I make it look good because it's my team and this is my look."

"We have such a passionate female fan base, who love to wear team colors, but fashion is so personal," says Tracey Bleczinski, the NFL's vice president of consumer products. "We're giving women the opportunity to be a fan but in their own way, in their own terms."

For women who want sexy, there are tight tops with cutout backs. For those who want subtle, there are silver necklaces with team logo pendants. And for the ladies who love sparkle and shine, watches, belts and shirts come encrusted with studs and crystals.

"I've been watching for seven years, and the games get more and more filled with women just glitzing it up," says former Ravens cheerleader Molly Shattuck, who modeled some of the NFL's latest gear for this article. "Women want to be part of the team. They want to be part of it, and they want to look the part. They don't want to walk around in a Ray Lewis jersey this big."

The Ravens became the first NFL team to start a female fan club when the team launched Purple in 2007. In five years, the club has become wildly popular, growing from several hundred members to 25,000.

And there's a waiting list of 90 people to get into the Lavender Ladies, Purple's exclusive branch that costs $250 a year. Lavender Ladies get chat time with the players and custom-made team merchandise. This year, for instance, they received quilted Ravens weekender bags.

The club's signature annual event, Purple Evening, which drew 1,200 women after two years, has "exploded," says Heather Harness, advertising and marketing manager for the Ravens. The team now limits it to about 5,000 people for sanity's sake.

This year, Purple Evening attendees will each get a Ravens purse as a gift. And they'll go on a locker room tour, with a stop in a lounge/salon where they can get their hair and nails done with touches of purple and shop at a Ravens boutique assembled just for the occasion, with stylists on hand to offer guidance.

At past Purple Evenings, women have had a chance to meet referees and learn how to throw passes. Once, Ray Rice did a uniform demo that was almost a strip-tease, taking off each piece as he explained what it was — helmet, shoulder pads, jersey. The pants did stay on, but as Harness will tell you, "That one definitely got rowdy."

When the women of B'more Chix aren't talking gameday fashion, they're strategizing over the fantasy football league they launched this year and sharing ideas on their Pinterest page — like recipes for purple layer cakes and chocolate-covered strawberries decorated to look like little footballs.

"Women see football from a different perspective," Renzi says. "Women used to have to sit in the stands and wear guys' jersey and not really have a place to talk in our language. What the NFL and what the Ravens are doing is right on cue."

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