tampabay.com

Gator fans blitz souvenir stores

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published January 10, 2007


A line more than 30 people deep started at the cash register and snaked through the clothing racks at Gator Haven in St. Petersburg on Tuesday afternoon.

Trudie O'Donnell, lifelong Gator fan, carried eight national championship shirts and three hats to divide with friends. "Everybody wants one, but I'm the only one who took off today and could get them," she said. It took three trips to the store before she got her timing right and could dip into a new shipment before it sold out.

Gator national football championship merchandise flew out the doors of the specialty stores stocking it Tuesday. Shirts were selling for about $20 apiece and hats for a few dollars more. But the shortage won't last long. Today, T-shirts will be more widely available at department and discount stores and within two weeks, stores across the state will be loaded with clothing, flags, car magnets and other merchandise.

"The initial response is a lot bigger than we thought it would be," said Bob Durda, vice president of the Tampa-based Sports Fan Attic retail chain. "We picked shirts up in Orlando at 5 a.m., got them in our stores by 8 or 9 a.m. and had people waiting for the doors to open. Over the next three days, we have thousands of T-shirts flowing in."

T-shirt maker VF Active Wear in Tampa prepared to print both Ohio State and Florida shirts, then cranked up the presses late in the fourth quarter when a Florida victory seemed secure. Although pregame orders were stronger for Ohio State merchandise, VF's Rick Becker said he expected Gator apparel to sell well: "It's all about supply and demand. When the team that won exceeded expectations, the demand is greater than anyone thought it would be."

Some Ohio retailers were so certain the Buckeyes were going to win that they ordered shirts to sell the minute the game was over. Macy's staffed its Columbus stores to stay open past 1 a.m. When they lost, so did Macy's.

A big win on the field means big bucks for the winning school. Last school year, the University of Florida earned about $3.2-million in licensing royalties, about $500,000 of that related to the basketball team's national championship run, said Heath Price a director for Collegiate Licensing Co., which assists universities with their licensing programs.

He said UF collects 8.5 percent of the wholesale price on most licensed merchandise. For national championship merchandise, the royalty fee jumps to 15 percent, 3 percent of which goes to the Bowl Championship Series.

About 100 of UF's 520 licensees have signed up to produce national championship products, Price said.

"This is what we call a hot market opportunity," he said. "Florida has a great brand with good colors and a passionate fan base. They've had a lot of success the last two years and their brand being where it is, they're able to capitalize on it."

Helen Huntley can be reached at hhuntley@sptimes.com or 727 893-8230.