Fresno State football success spurs record merchandise sales

The Fresno BeeNovember 20, 2013 

Fresno State hooded sweatshirts are made at M&M Screen Printing in Clovis, one of the school’s 175 licensed vendors. In 2000, Fresno State had only 75 licensed vendors. Fresno State is one of the fastest growing brands in the college sales industry and on pace to set a one-year record in merchandise sales.

BRYANT-JON ANTEOLA — THE FRESNO BEE

Fresno State's record-setting run isn't limited to the football field.

The school is on pace to shatter records at the cash register, too, with retail sales of Fresno State merchandise projected to gross more than $11 million in the fiscal year that will end in June.

Beginning in July, Fresno State has seen a 41% growth in sales — the third-largest boost in the nation among Football Bowl Subdivision schools represented by Collegiate Licensing Co. Only Texas A&M, aided by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and Louisville, which won the men's basketball national championship, have seen larger increases.

"Fresno State is a strong brand, and it's a growing brand," said Brian White, vice president of Partner Services for the company. "It's a large institution with a strong combination of school colors — red, white and blue — that people like to wear.

"The athletic program has done very well the last 14 years. Not just in football, but you've got a baseball national championship there, a softball championship in the late '90s. The university has been very committed to growing its brand and expanding its exposure, and you're seeing some of those results climb with the football team doing well."

Despite the recent sales surge and the football team's first 9-0 start since 1989, Fresno State still is far from joining the nation's top-selling brands.

Fresno State was No. 58 nationally and third among Mountain West Conference schools, behind Boise State and Wyoming, among CLC schools in 2012-13.

Only a handful of notable programs are not represented by the company, including USC, Oregon and Ohio State. CLC's top college seller is Texas, followed by Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan and Georgia.

But Fresno State has caught the attention of retailers this fall and more are carrying Bulldogs merchandise in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

We're not just talking T-shirts and caps, but also products ranging from women's underwear to pet clothes with the Bulldogs logo. Merchandise can be found at retailers such as Macy's, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Save Mart.

Fresno State's sales increase coincides with the growth of an industry that now hauls in $4.6 billion annually — up from $2.3 billion in 2000. At Fresno State, retail sales were $2.8 million in 2000-01. Last year, considered a down year, they were $7.45 million.

Its previous peak year was 2008-09, when Fresno State had $10.75 million in sales aided by the baseball team's national championship in summer 2008.

"Winning is everything," said Diane Brock, general manager of the Bulldog Shop. "Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Everybody's excited when we're winning. Normally, every year, the success of the store is because of the success of the team.

"We always make money. The last couple of years, it had been down. This year, though, it's been crazy — almost like the year when we won the baseball national championship and we had a line out the door that wrapped around the building."

Beyond the winning, the school has helped grow its brand and sales by building relationships with companies, developing them as licensed vendors and encouraging them to offer a diverse collection of Fresno State merchandise.

Nike is Fresno State's largest vendor. Others nationally include Adidas, Under Armour, Russell Athletic and New Era.

Fresno State also has tapped the local market for vendors such as M&M Screen Printing in Clovis and Holcomb Products Inc. in Fresno.

In all, the number of licensed vendors has grown from 75 in 2000 to 175.

"If all we did was count on our sports programs to win to grow the Fresno State brand, we would not be capitalizing as much," said university Sales and Licensing Coordinator Clarence Chiong, who approves all merchandise before it is marketed. "A lot of the success does come from winning. But you want people to develop an affinity to their university whether or not the team is winning or losing.

"We don't want our Fresno State products limited to high-end stores or just low-end stores — or just Fresno. You want it accessible to as many people as possible. Our vendors are hitting the women's market hard, making more apparel for kids. And maybe those kids one day go to Fresno State and want to support their alma mater."

Chiong stays in close contact with the top vendors, encouraging them to prominently display Bulldogs gear and letting them know about upcoming events that might help boost sales — like the Blackout game at Bulldog Stadium earlier this month.

That helps vendors and retail stores be better prepared to handle demand.

Inside Fashion Fair mall at the Sports Station, a cardboard cutout of football coach Tim DeRuyter is on display at the entrance. The store is well stocked with Fresno State items — from T-shirts to sweaters to hoodies to jackets — and even more is pushed to the forefront on game day.

Jill Crecelius, Sports Station's general manager, said Fresno State is "by far" the store's most popular college brand and estimated that sales of Fresno State apparel have at least tripled since August.

At off-campus bookstore Sequoia Textbooks, a large Bulldogs logo on the wall helps steer people looking for Fresno State products. Misty Bassham, Sequoia Textbooks' manager, recalls having just three or four types of Fresno State T-shirts in the store 10 years ago. Now, there are at least 10, some designed specifically for women, as well as mugs, glasses and other beverage containers.

"It's amazing how much we've branched out in choices," Bassham said. "Those color-themed games have really helped our sales, too. Fans want to be a part of the game and fit it."

Fresno State also has to be on the lookout for knock-off merchandise.

On game day, Chiong and a police officer cruise the parking lots and campus in search of unlicensed merchandise.

"That's part of my duties in trying to protect and promote Fresno State's branding," he said. "A lot of people think I'm a 'logo cop.' In those cases, I am."

Chiong also tries to be cautious when it comes to approving new products for the school's name or logo to be attached to, nixing ideas such as Fresno State poker chips or beer: "We don't want Fresno State associated with gambling or drinking. Just not a good light for the university."

Meanwhile, Fresno State has its fingers crossed that the football team will win its final two regular-season games and the Mountain West Conference championship Dec. 7 and reach a big-money BCS game.

"If that happens," Chiong said, "the retail sales from the 2008 season will just be a blip compared to what we could sell by the end of this year."

Senior Day

No. 15 FRESNO STATE VS. NEW MEXICO

Saturday: 1 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium

Records: Bulldogs 9-0, 6-0 MW; Lobos 3-7, 1-5

Line: Bulldogs -31.5

Over/under: 65.5

TV: ESPNews

Radio: KFIG (AM 940); KGST (AM 1600)

More online: Keep up with the latest news and updates throughout the week at fresnobee.com/bulldogs and on Twitter @Banteola_TheBee, @rkuwada and @fresnobeesports

 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, bjanteola@fresnobee.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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