Paul Sebring/Sebring Photography
The first NFL-authorized ball gown, designed by Danell Lynn, is made from recycled Arizona Cardinals jerseys.
The first NFL-authorized ball gown, designed by Danell Lynn, is made from recycled Arizona Cardinals jerseys. Paul Sebring/Sebring Photography
For most of its nearly 90 years in existence, the National Football League has sold team merchandise such as jerseys and hats. Nearly all of it has been designed for male fans.
However, that is changing, as the women's pro shop is now the NFL's fastest growing department. And that's adding up to a whole lot of money — and glitter.
Regina Johnson is by far the most stylish spectator at this Arizona Cardinals practice. Johnson — who won't divulge her age — is wearing a strapless, floor-length dress and giant bejeweled sunglasses. Her sculpted fingernails are painted with red and white curlicues, the colors of her beloved team.
"I like my nails to be exotic, and I'm very particular about what I'm wearing," Johnson says. "I'm very particular about the Cardinals, and that's why I'm wearing all red."
That desire — to cheer on your team in clothing other than boxy jerseys from the men's department — is something the NFL is finally paying attention to.
Leo Kane, the NFL's vice president of consumer products, says the organization has long been aware that women make up more than 40 percent of the nearly 200 million football fans nationwide. But it took league officials years to shed their skepticism about investing in a women's line.
"It was a hurdle that people had to get over," Kane says. "Like, OK, I know they're fans, but do they really want to wear stuff that celebrates all 32 teams? And I think the answer's coming back a resounding 'yes.' "
At least a couple of things influenced that. In 1999, athletics giant Reebok designed the NFL's first women's jersey. A shopping frenzy ensued. The same thing happened in 2005 when the Green Bay Packers launched a line of pink apparel to raise money for breast cancer research. Kane says those sales campaigns helped pave the way for the NFL's current clothing and accessories line.
"Now you can get great handbags," Kane says. "You can get sundresses, hair accessories."
You can even get clothes with celebrity star power behind them. Two years ago, TV actress Alyssa Milano entered into a lucrative contract with the NFL to design a trendy line of girls-only team gear called "Touch."
The NFL does not disclose its sales figures. But officials say Milano's line is doing very well, and it has given league officials more confidence that women's apparel will sell.
Jerseys Enter World Of High Fashion
Now football apparel is even going high fashion: At a runway show earlier this year, Phoenix designer Danell Lynn showed off the first NFL-authorized ball gown, made entirely out of Arizona Cardinals jerseys worn by the players themselves.
"They are clean — no worries," Lynn says. "There are no grass stains, no sweaty smells."
Lynn partnered with the NFL to design the gown for a charity auction. She hopes its special red sash will bring in a hefty price.
"There's a whole front panel that starts at about the waistline and goes all the way to the floor that the entire NFC championship team has signed," Lynn says.
Since the Cardinals dress had its debut, Lynn has been fielding phone calls from the NFL Wives Club about designing dresses for their teams, too, which is very exciting news for an up-and-coming fashion designer. But perhaps the most exciting news of all this season is that the NFL's latest merchandising partner is none other than Victoria's Secret. Now, female fans will have more support than ever on Game Day.