tampabay.com

Way to go, logo, way to go

Sales of USF merchandise are soaring with the team's record.

By ALAN SNEL, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Published December 8, 2006


TAMPA - Who could have predicted this? The main merchandise wall at the Bucs and Bull Heaven sports store is displaying more University of South Florida shirts and hats than Buccaneers' logo gear.

But that's what happens when the local college football team upsets a powerhouse West Virginia squad and heads to a bowl game, while the hometown Bucs plummet firmly into last place. It's a dynamic played out throughout the sports apparel business in the bay area depending on the vagaries of how well a giving team is doing.

"A lot of this has to do with USF's success. The interest is growing," said Chuck Cotton, a 1975 USF graduate and Bulls season ticket holder who just spent $37.54 on a Bulls T-shirt and ski cap. "It's a growing program. It's a young program."

The Bulls' buzz has stirred big business for Jeffrey Neil Fox. The owner of Bucs and Bulls Heaven reported that sales of USF logo gear at his store passed $100,000 for the month-long period from Nov. 5 to Tuesday. That's three times the revenue sales for the same time period in 2005.

In response to the Bullish spending, Fox has spent $20,000 in ads, promotions and home mailings to lure even more USF fans to his North Florida Avenue store in Tampa.

And he's beefing up his Bulls inventory, stocking more than a half-million dollars worth of green jerseys, T-shirts, skirts and even Rocky the Bull stuffed animals. At the same time last year, Fox had about $200,000 worth of USF inventory. This year, Fox is peddling 70 different USF caps compared with 10 last year.

"The ink is still drying," Fox remarked about the print on the new shirts that just arrived showing the Bulls playing the East Carolina Pirates in the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. on Dec. 23.

USF fan Colleen Kurtz said Christmas shopping for her husband, a Bulls grad, was easy at Bucs and Bull Heaven.

"The only thing he asked for was a Bulls jersey," said Kurtz, who also got a skirt for her two-year-old daughter. Total bill: About $80.

The spike in Bulls gear sales is consistent with the overall trend in college football logo merchandise sales this year.

Sales are up 46 percent nationwide, said Neil Schwartz, spokesman for SportScanInfo, a Palm Beach County company that tracks sports merchandise retail sales.

For the state's Big Three of the University of Florida, the University of Miami and Florida State University, the sales of their logo gear reflect the wins and losses of their respective seasons.

The Gators, who are playing in the national championship game, showed a 36.5 percent increase in gear sales this year. That's compared with a 12 percent increase for the Miami Hurricanes, which had an off-season in 2006.

The FSU Seminoles struggled mightily on both the field and at the cash register, showing a 5.45 percent decrease in merchandise sales, according to SportScanInfo data.

The buzz around the college bowl season has even prompted a west Tampa company that manufactures specialty sports T-shirts with irreverent messages to crank out hundreds of shirts this week.

Smack Apparel Co. produced 1,000 "BCS Robbery" shirts for Michigan fans, who are disappointed that the Wolverines missed out on playing Ohio State for the national championship. Meanwhile, Smack Apparel made 2,000 shirts with the message that "Michigan is just a second place team," for Ohio State fans, said Wayne Curtiss, owner of Smack Apparel.

Winning is profitable

Sports merchandise sales for the biggest college teams in Florida varied dramatically, mirroring the teams' on-field performances. Here's how sales between February and November this year compare with the same period a year ago.

UF: Up 36.5 percent

Miami: Up 12.3 percent

FSU: Down 5.45 percent

The top 10 in sales

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan

3. Texas

4. Alabama

5. Georgia

6. Notre Dame

7. Florida

8. Oklahoma

9. Kentucky

10. Tennessee

Source: SportScanInfo