When you looked around an NFL stadium years ago, the majority of those in attendance were male. But looking around a stadium today, you’ll notice there are a lot more ladies in the stands.

In fact, women now represent 45 percent of the NFL fanbase, a number that surprises even the most avid fans.

But the reason for this increase in fandom can’t be pinned to one specific thing, but rather a slew of efforts that are creating a more welcoming experience to women and their families and friends.

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THE TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT

For many women, their foray into falling in love with the game of football happens in college. Weekdays are consumed with figuring out whose tailgating where and what outfit to rock along with what drinks and food to bring. It’s in this social aspect of the football culture where women who didn’t care about football before, start to learn more and more about the game.

Once they graduate and Saturdays are no longer spent on a college campus, their attention shifts to Sundays. Of course many fans still watch their favorite college team, but NFL Sundays are the only place where women can continue to enjoy the cultural aspect of football with a deeper appreciation for the game they most likely learned in college.

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MARKETING TOWARD THE FEMALE BUYING POWER

For years, the merchandise the NFL thought the female fan wanted was an oversized jersey, covered in rhinestones or pink.

Yuck.

But in just the past few years, the NFL has changed their tune on merchandise for women. Gone are the oversized jerseys and mass pink apparel. Now there are feminine cut jerseys and team gear that’s you know, in the actual team colors. An NFL Style Lounge was launched a couple years ago that travels around to up to 10 teams, per season with the eventual goal of being in every NFL city at least once a year. These Style Lounges, which the Jaguars had last year, include merchandise specifically for women from area retailers and includes a fun environment with a photobooth, DJ spinning music and free manicures by Covergirl in your team’s colors.

Aside from the merchandise, is how the NFL is promoting those products to women. An astounding 85 percent of all consumer purchases in the U.S. are made by women, and instead of showing the infamous “football widow” who doesn’t know what to do with herself when her husband is off watching the game, the NFL is marketing off the women who watch the game no matter the weather, the record, or if numerous kids are running around.

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PICKING UP WHERE OTHERS LEAVE OFF

Where the NFL leaves off in what merchandise, and price points, it supplies to its growing segment, is where others jump in, especially at the local level. The Jaguars are the only team in the league where a majority of their fanbase is female (51 percent). So it would only make financial sense to cater to that demographic.

Local boutiques such as The Pink Nickel and the fashion truck, Belle Blvd, both make considerable efforts to provide clothing and accessories in Jaguar team colors. These outfits can not only be worn on game day at a much cheaper rate than NFL-licensed clothing, but can pull double duty as outfits to wear out with friends or at the office.

There’s even an upcoming local Jaguars Fashion Show held by Manisha Sunil Joshi, owner of Sunisha Designs, where area boutiques have been invited to show off their fashions on one condition — the items shown are in official Jaguar team colors. Joshi, who isn’t making money off the event, just wanted an event to show off the two things she loves — football and fashion.

“My husband was one of the first season ticket holders for the Jaguars over 20 years ago,” she said. “When we got the team, he literally cried tears of joy and for the first few seasons, he would make me sit through video after video of team highlights and quiz me on penalties and plays; that’s how I fell in love with the game. And now I’m a season ticket holder myself and it makes me so happy to be able to share my love of football and fashion with other women who feel the same.”

Another place where women can share in their love of the Jaguars is the team’s official Women’s Club. Launched in 2013, the club quickly grew to over 1,000 members and that number looks to increase in 2014. Events like Yoga on the Field, Cooking with the Jags, and NFL 101 event, holiday socials, are more are the kind of events the JWC has held in the past and plan to do so in this season.

The Jaguars may be one of only nine official women’s clubs in the NFL, but coming this fall, they will be the only team in the NFL to have a radio partner in 1010XL/92.5FM with a football show for women, by women. Dubbed “Helmets and Heels,” the weekly show debuts on Tuesday, Aug. 5 from 7 to 8 p.m. with show hosts to include Jaguars Journal writer, Jessica Blaylock, 1010XL’s Donna Murphy and Lauren Brooks along with myself. Helmets and Heels will center around the game of football, interviews with players/coaches/wives, tailgating and other aspects of the game women care most about.

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SO WHAT NOW?

The NFL has made strides in marketing to women. But an area where it can improve is the lack of female leadership throughout the NFL as a whole.

The majority of all female executives in the league are in charge of marketing and finances, but a select few, perhaps as low as two, actually hold the title of CEO or COO. With the lack of female leadership at the top, there could be less instances of taking one step forward and two steps back, as was the case when the NFL decided to abruptly ban purses larger than the size of your hand in 2013, unless it’s a hideous and cheap clear bag.

But regardless how much, or little, the NFL continues to embrace the female fan, women have proved that the thirst for more options is real. As long as that thirst, and buying power, remain intact, so shall the need for more women leading the charge in events and businesses centered around the ever-growing female fan.