Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Vols' merchandise remains among nation's top 10

KNOXVILLE — Want a little something to remember Pat Summitt's record 880th career coaching victory? Thanks to the University of Tennessee and more than 600 businesses, Lady Vols' fans can pick and choose from a poster and six different T-shirts.

It's all part of the business side of college sports that keeps the university ranked among the top 10 in the country in merchandise sales.

Tennessee currently is running sixth behind Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina for the fiscal year 2005 with $1.95 million in royalties so far.

Companies like Bacon & Co. shipped out items celebrating Summitt's 880th victory hours after her Lady Vols beat Purdue 75-54 last week, adding to the officially licensed memorabilia that ranges from infant clothing to coffins — all with the UT logo.

''Our fans will buy almost anything,'' said Chris Fuller, UT's assistant athletic director for sales and marketing. ''And I say that in a very complimentary way.''

The university's royalty rate is 8.5 percent of an item's wholesale amount, and UT has collected more than $18.8 million worth of royalties since 1998, and $18.5 million of that comes from UT-Knoxville. The royalty rate equates to more than $200 million worth of sales.

That makes the university one of the country's biggest sellers, according to The Collegiate Licensing Co., which represents nearly 200 universities and colleges, bowl games, conferences and the NCAA.

Tennessee ranked third behind North Carolina and Michigan in 2002 and 2003 before dipping to eighth in 2004 just behind Georgia and ahead of Florida. UT led the country in 1999 after winning the 1998 national championship in football.

''They actually had the largest royalty success for a national championship,'' said Derek Eiler, CLC's chief operating officer.

CLC operates as a middleman for schools by licensing products to companies, and licensing allows universities to control how their logos are used and the quality of those goods produced.

''Our obligation is to keep looking at what we are offering,'' Fuller said. ''You are always balancing a contemporary look with a traditional look.''

Currently, UT officials are trying to freshen up some of the school's trademarks, symbols and designs. That includes an image of a growling Smokey mascot that is more streamlined and colorful than the current one without straying too far from tradition.

''It's really important that you don't get carried away,'' Fuller said.

UT splits the money made off its licensing fees between athletics and academics with most used for scholarships. That includes the more than $100,000 made off EA Sports' NCAA Football last year.

Not all items sell, for example the dog food CLC was asked to license. Some items never hit the market and are destroyed as in 2001 when Tennessee lost to LSU in the Southeastern Conference football championship game.

''We've had a good string of wins, and we've also had a few losses,'' said Jed Dance, an executive in the Knoxville-based Bacon & Co.

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