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A New Dress Code

Leagues and teams are figuring out that there's a huge market for women who want to show support in feminine-looking clothes

May 09, 2006|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

For years, Heather Berault proved her allegiance to the Lakers by wearing an oversized men's basketball jersey. Then, out of frustration, she began to fashion her own apparel, using purple T-shirts cut to fit a woman's body and gold glitter to spell out "Lakers."

Fortunately, for Berault -- who acknowledges she's not an artsy-craftsy person -- sports marketers have begun to realize that many women want a more feminine way to make a sports-fashion statement. So, during a recent Laker-Sun telecast at the Fox Sports Grill in Irvine, Berault was wearing a decidedly feminine Laker top with spaghetti straps and a delicate "Lakers" spelled across the front.

"It's fun to be girlie and cute and still be telling people I'm a Lakers' fan," said the Laguna Beach resident. "So I bought three of the shirts the other night at Staples Center -- one purple and gold, one that's gold with purple, and one that's black and white."

Male fans still can get jerseys and warmup jackets emblazoned with traditional team logos and official franchise colors. But, for female sports fans who want to make a sporting statement, Dodger Blue is fading to a gentler sky blue, the NFL is pitching pink Browns' caps, and the NBA has introduced white and pink playoff jerseys dusted with glitter for some teams that have advanced in the playoffs.

Even in some parts of the fierce Raider Nation, pink is the new black.

Some of what's being pitched, including this item from NASCAR, may make old-timers blush: "You will look cute and be comfortable wearing this Jeff Gordon Drill Team camo ladies' tank top."

"It's not about what some 40-year-old guy wants but what [women] want," acknowledged Steve Armus, vice president of licensing for Major League Baseball.

He'll get no argument from Jenny Balin, who for years wore her Dodger Blue as oversized men's baseball jerseys and ill-fitting T-shirts. The 43-year-old Long Beach resident is reveling in the growing selection of pretty-in-pink tops, workout gear and other "more girlie, feminine fashion" that the Dodgers are making available online and in Dodger Stadium souvenir shops.

"I love the new clothes because they're designed with women in mind, the way we dress, as opposed to guys who have to have 'I'm a Dodger fan' emblazoned across their chest," Balin said. "At first, it was a baby-doll T-shirt. But now it's just about anything -- including yoga clothes and [team] jackets cut for women that really fit."

Her only gripe is one that echoes among many female fans: What took them so long?

Women are increasingly important in the sports-marketing world. About 45 million tune in to NFL telecasts during the season, half of NASCAR's viewers are women, and 42% of the fans spinning turnstiles at major league baseball games are women.

Sports marketers acknowledge that sports organizations long took female fans for granted.

"The woman fan was always there, but as leagues, we'd not given them proper product -- it was generally 'Buy the men's small T-shirt or jersey,' " said Lisa Piken, the NBA's director of apparel and accessory licensing.

The licensed apparel, accessories and other merchandise is designed, as the NFL says of its pastel polo shirts, "to flatter a feminine shape." But the figure that has caught the eye of sports marketers is the bottom line.

Female-oriented merchandise is the fastest growing category in the NBA's licensed products line. The category drives a quarter of the NFL's licensed apparel, and sales of NASCAR's licensed apparel for females soared to $250 million last year -- equal to all of the licensed merchandise it sold in 1990.

Female-oriented licensed merchandise accounted for about 10% of the $13.2 billion in licensed sports apparel, accessories and other products sold last year in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Licensing Letter. It is a welcome turn for leagues scrambling to generate new revenue and retailers hoping to lure new shoppers.

"The female customer is just not interested anymore in getting a men's or boy's jersey and making do with it," said Alan Cohen, chairman and chief executive of the Finish Line, a sporting-goods chain with more than 650 outlets. "There's much more of a market than before, both in the size aspect, as well as in some of the fashions and colors."

Nubia Correa has developed a few ideas about fashion and fit. Last Tuesday night, she squeezed into a Kobe Bryant jersey designed to fit a child. It was either that, the Anaheim resident said, or show up at the Fox Sports Grill in an oversized men's jersey.

"I like the girlie stuff," said Correa, who recently bought two authentic-style Angels' jerseys that incorporate a comfortable V neck, along with sleeves and buttons tailored for women. She also owns a comfortable Laker sweatsuit made of black velour that she can wear "just about anywhere.... If you're wearing a guy's stuff, you have to tie knots in the back to help make it fit."

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