News from the Tennessee Valley Business

Aranda Beckwith at University Collectibles in Colonial Mall.
Daily photos by Brennen Smith
Aranda Beckwith at University Collectibles in Colonial Mall.

Cheering team cheers stores
Fans flock to retailers to help declare their allegiance on game day

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Auburn University’s orange and blue and The University of Alabama’s crimson and white are the colors of Iron Bowl week, but they mean lots of green for some area retailers.

These retailers said fans of both schools flock to their stores so they can declare their allegiance at work, home, school and on game day.

Christmas starts early for these retailers, many of whom depend on the fervor of fans to pay their bills. Nancy Dennis of the Alabama Retailers Association said she doesn’t have any numbers on how big this week is. “Every big retail store to small convenience store is selling Auburn and Alabama merchandise, so I know it’s big.”

Even Cracker Barrel, known for the meals grandma used to make, offers Tide and Tiger fans an opportunity to wear or to display school preference.

“It’s not as big as Christmas, but it’s pretty close,” said Andriea Borden, manager of University Collectibles in Colonial Mall.

Major draw

Martin’s Store Manager Carol Polston said Alabama and Auburn apparel and memorabilia have grown to the point that they’re a major draw.

“It’s not totally driving our business, but we have people coming from all over when they hear we have such a large selection of Alabama and Auburn stuff,” Polston said.

It is not just retailers who smile as the Iron Bowl approaches. The schools benefit, too.

Both Auburn and Alabama collect an 8 percent licensing fee from the vendors who produce their merchandise. Both schools use most of that money for scholarships.

Alabama — with this year’s revenue boosted significantly by the arrival of Coach Nick Saban — collects more than $3 million a year. Auburn collects more than $2.5 million.

Licensing does not go to everyone who asks for it. Vendor licensing requests for both Auburn and Alabama go through Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co. CLC evaluates proposals and makes a recommendation to the schools.

Licensed vendor

Usually, the licensed vendor is not the company from which fans buy the product, but the producer of the product. For example, Nike and JanSport are major licensees of Alabama.

“We approve or disapprove each company based on whether we think it’s a good product,” said Jennifer Martin, assistant director of marketing and trademark licensing at The University of Alabama. “We don’t want to have the university’s mark on something that’s poor quality.”

Even after the vendor is approved, it must submit its artwork to the school for approval.

“We make sure it’s tasteful and classy,” Martin said. “It needs to meet up with our standards.”

Phillip Casteel, owner of Red Elephants on Central Parkway Southeast, said he sold $200 worth of Alabama shirts last week to one company wanting to put all of its employees in crimson this week. That sale is another $16 for Alabama scholarship recipients.

“The impact of this week is huge,” Casteel said.

Alabama is already the big winner in this rivalry of who buys the most merchandise to support a team. The retailers interviewed estimated that they sell 40 to 50 percent more Alabama than Auburn.

“That’s why our stores carry more Alabama than Auburn,” said Ashton Bennich, assistant manger of the Hibbett’s Sporting Goods in the mall. “We always sell more Alabama no matter what. Auburn doesn’t always sell.”

Borden agreed with Bennich, saying, “Auburn just doesn’t have the backing that Alabama has. Alabama is one of the most popular teams in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) and its got a long tradition. It’s hard to compete with that.”

Even though Auburn has a five-game winning streak over Alabama, Bennich said the younger generation mostly goes for the Crimson Tide gear.

Popular items

Jack and Betty Harrison look at Auburn and Alabama electronic key chains, which play school fight songs.
Jack and Betty Harrison look at Auburn and Alabama electronic key chains, which play school fight songs.
The retailers said the most popular merchandise for Alabama fans are the polo shirts and hats like Coach Nick Saban wears and anything with Bear’s houndstooth black and white. Crimson usually outsells white, but barely.

Auburn fans are going for anything burnt orange, replacing the once popular navy blue with burnt orange highlights.

The stores do carry a few of other teams’ items. Tennessee’s orange and white is hard to miss, but the retailers said sales pale in comparison. Borden said LSU is the popular team this year, as Florida was last year when it was on the way to a national title.

“We have some Tennessee fans who come from South Tennessee because there aren’t many places to shop there,” Borden said.

The sales don’t stop with Saturday’s big game. The winners of the showdown want T-shirts to declare their victory. Fans will be lining up before opening Sunday morning to buy the shirt, and they don’t last very long.

“It doesn’t make a difference who wins,” Polston said. “Both fans will buy a lot.”

Eric Fleischauer contributed to this article.

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