Some of the best business stories are behind the emerging Cinderella. I covered Gonzaga's merchandising boom from their NCAA Tournament runs and Boise State's merchandising royalty run as they became the most prominent non-BCS football program in the land.
That's why I'm loving the story that the South Florida Bulls have become. Most of you know the tale by now. They beat Auburn and West Virginia and are now ranked 6th in the AP Top 25. And as the Bulls have gotten hot, so too have Bulls gear.
That's a good thing for Jeffrey Neil Fox, the owner of Bucs & Bulls Heaven in Tampa, the school's official retailer and an alum of the school. Fox said in a typical year, he sells an equal amount of Tampa Bay Buccaneers gear and South Florida Bulls merchandise. But this year, South Florida stuff is dominating his store. "Having lived through the Bucs Super Bowl run, I'm very familiar with the hot market," Fox said. "I know how to get what I want and I know what sells."
South Florida's enrollment of 45,000 easily trumps that of Gonzaga (6,500) and Boise State (19,000) combined. But USF is small peanuts in terms of how the licensed apparel companies think of them.
According to the Collegiate Licensing Company, USF ranked 63rd in royalties last fiscal year. That ranked them ahead of the likes of Wyoming (64), Baylor (65), Marquette (66), UCF (67) and UTEP (68). But watch out Gonzaga (56), Fresno State (57), TCU (58) and Northwestern (59)--USF is guaranteed to have a record royalties year thanks to its 4-0 start.
"Over the last couple weeks, we've received a lot of calls from licensees and retailers," said Mike Carlton, director of university services for Collegiate Licensing Company, which runs the licensing programs of over 200 colleges and universities. "Companies that make headwear and T-shirts that did not do much South Florida are now upping the amount of product and there's plenty of interest from retailers as well."
Carlton said South Florida gear is now in 39 different Wal-Marts , which he noted is a "consideratble jump up from where they would have been." Dillard's has also stepped up its orders and now has USF product in all of its Tampa stores, Carlton said.
Fox said he thinks his USF business could easily sell five times as much USF merchandise than he did last year. The phones keep ringing off the hook and he says his store might be the easiest place to get a job in all of Florida. "This is how it works," Fox said. "If you come in and ask for a job, I'll put you in a shirt and have you working before you can even fill out an application."
He has thousands of products to sell, but admits he's missing one. "We call our store an authentic store and we don't offer any authentic football jerseys," Fox said.
Nike , which makes the Bulls jerseys, didn't make an authentic jersey and a Nike spokesman told CNBC that there were no plans to change that. Part of the reason for that might be the fact that next year, Under Armour will be the official apparel maker of the Bulls and Nike might not want to invest much in a lame duck.
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