Women’s College Sports Apparel Sees Triple-Digit Growth

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To say that the business of college sports is huge, would be an understatement.  From television contracts to ticket sales, the amount of money that funnels through the economy as a result of college sports is astronomical.  One of the greatest segments of the college sports economy is the licensed products retail market, where fans can buy anything from t-shirts and hats to cowboy boots and aprons bearing their favorite team’s logo.  That licensed college sports products retail market accounts for $4.6 billion in sales annually.

While licensed products have been a source of revenue generation for universities for some time, one area that has seen significant growth recently is women’s apparel sales.  According to IMG College, the women’s apparel retail category has grown by 148 percent over the last five years and by 53 percent in the last three years.  This growth has made women’s apparel the second-largest apparel category in IMG College’s licensing business, second only to men’s/unisex t-shirts.  Given that IMG College’s licensing affiliate, Collegiate Licensing Company, represents nearly 80-percent of the collegiate sports retail market, it is likely that these numbers are consistent across the collegiate sports retail landscape.

What then, is driving this growth of college sports women’s apparel sales?  As it turns out, it is a number of factors.

For starters, the number of women identifying themselves as college sports fans has surged.  According to an ESPN Sports Poll, 89 million females self-identify as college sports fans.  This number is the highest of all sports, topping even the NFL, of which 84.3 million females self-identify as fans.  Add to the number of females identifying themselves as college sports fans the fact that tied with football, college sports has the most fans earning over $100,000 annually, and you realize the power of college sports when it comes to female consumers’ spending dollars.  Collegiate Licensing Company estimates that women’s apparel retail sales for the schools and institutions it partners with exceed $350 million during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

While the number of women identifying themselves as college sports fans has impacted apparel sales growth, the biggest factor has been the industry’s own renaissance.  In recent years, apparel providers have overhauled their women’s apparel lines to create designs that fit women’s bodies and appeal to their tastes.  Gone are the days of the “shrink it and pink it” mentality of women’s sports apparel.  “We have always known that women like to shop; that is nothing new.  What we are trying to do, though, and where our focus lies, is that the right products haven’t been available to women.  If you go back years ago, a men’s size small t-shirt is what was available to women in sports licensed products.  We realized that wasn’t going to cut it, and that we needed to seek out companies that had the proper styles, fits and everything else a woman looks for to create products,” Collegiate Licensing Company’s senior vice president and managing director, Cory Moss, explained.

One tool that has driven growth of women’s college sports apparel is niche products.  Take for instance, western boots company Nocona Boots.  Founded in 1925 in the home of one of college sports’ greatest rivalries–the Red River Valley along the Texas-Oklahoma border–the company entered the collegiate sports licensing realm in 2009 with its College Boots line.  The line, which began with three schools, has since grown to represent over fifty university’s logos.  With the growth in schools represented, has come growth in sales.  According to Monte Nelson, Nocona Boots’ brand manager, the company has quadrupled its sales figures for its College Boots line since 2009.

Like the rest of the collegiate sports apparel landscape, Nocona Boots has noticed that much of its growth is spurred by female consumers.  Nocona Boots estimates that women’s purchases account for 55-percent of sales for its College Boots line.  “The female category has been a large part of our sales,” Nelson noted.

While Collegiate Licensing Company says that the growth of women’s college apparel sales is outpacing men’s, the fact of the matter is that men’s apparel sales still make up the greatest percentage of the company’s overall apparel business.  As such, retailers continue to develop innovative apparel lines related to men’s favorite college teams.  Take for instance this fall, when Dockers launched its new Game Day Program line, with two khaki variations in ten different school’s colors.  Similarly, Carhartt recently signed its first co-branded licensing deal with Collegiate Licensing Company to begin selling outerwear with 14 different schools’ colors and logos.

With women’s licensed college apparel sales surging and men’s licensed college apparel sales continuing to grow, one thing is certain:  College sports fans can continue to expect to see innovative and stylish apparel products enter the market.

Alicia Jessop

Founder of Ruling Sports


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