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The NFL store offers an Indianapolis Colts Anastasio Moda “The Kate” women’s handbag for $694.

NFL targets women with new merchandise

Bags, nail polish among goods for big bloc of fans

For the month of April, the National Football League has established a temporary, pop-up shop in Times Square – coinciding with the NFL draft, which will be held in New York starting today.

Inside the shop you’ll find familiar items: authentic team jerseys, baseball caps with team logos and posters of NFL stars in action. You’ll also see some slightly odder licensing partnerships: Tervis tumblers and kukui nut necklaces with NFL branding. And you’ll see a few products that may seem downright out of place in an NFL shop: yoga pants, and bejeweled and embossed leather handbags.

Since 2010, the NFL has been ramping up its efforts to market to women. Female-targeted NFL merchandise had previously been an afterthought – an offshoot of extant dude gear.

“ ‘Shrink it and pink it’ was our old strategy,” says Tracey Bleczinski, vice president of NFL consumer products. This approach was reasonably successful, and showed that women wanted NFL merchandise. “But we saw an empty space in the marketplace that we could fill with much more sophisticated products.”

These days, the NFL is wooing female shoppers with a clothing line from actress (and sports fan) Alyssa Milano, featuring tees in flattering cuts and fabrics. (Milano previously lent her expertise to a line for Major League Baseball.) There are nail polish sets in primary and secondary team colors, so you can create your own NFL nail art. Last year, women’s winter boots were a big hit.

And then there are the aforementioned handbags, from luxury brand Anastasio Moda. Though the most expensive bag at the pop-up shop costs $595, online you can buy a jeweled New York Giants clutch – featuring Italian silk and sheepskin leather – for $3,495. Those with more utilitarian tastes can opt for the Italian suede tote bag – elegantly embossed with your team’s logo – at $695.

“We see these bags as something a woman can bring to the luxury box of the stadium,” designer Angelo Anastasio says. “Or to look stylish at the tailgate party.”

The NFL won’t release sales figures, but a spokeswoman claims the high-end bags were a big hit with shoppers at the ladies’ night event the pop-up shop held this month.

The biggest surprise isn’t that this stuff sells. It’s that the NFL didn’t move more swiftly to create woman-friendly merchandise.

The number of female football fans is shockingly huge. According to an NFL spokeswoman, there were more women watching the Super Bowl this year (43.3 million women 18 and older) than there were total viewers for the Academy Awards (39.3 million).

“Some people say the Oscars are the Super Bowl for women,” Bleczinski says, “but in fact the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl for women.”

The NFL says that 44 percent of its fans are women and that women make up one-third of what it terms “avid” fans (those who identify themselves as “very interested” in pro football).

The NFL is easily the favorite sports league of women 12 and older, with Major League Baseball a distant second. In 2010, 93 million women (almost four out of five) watched some part of the NFL season.

Granted, some of those 93 million gals may have been watching not so much by choice as by proximity – sharing the couch with football-crazy husbands and sons. (And to be fair, sometimes it’s guys who are dragged along by NFL-obsessive women.)

But it’s useful for the NFL to court even casual female viewers.

“Casual female fans might view the game more as an excuse to be together with their families,” Bleczinski says, “tailgating, or watching together in the living room with snacks and friends. But they still enjoy showing team loyalty just like the guys do.”

According to Bleczinski, women are the “CFOs of households,” controlling 80 percent of spending decisions. If NFL stores and websites become shopping destinations women, a mom might search for that cool Cowboys top she saw on a friend – and, while she’s at it, throw in a couple of Tim Tebow jerseys for her kids. (Tebow gear was a massive hit with kid NFL fans last year.)

“Tebow has that superhero thing,” Bleczinski says.