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Big sales come with big-time football wins

Public relations senior Jessica Cura adds to her collection of Bulls wear in preparation for the upcoming game against Florida Atlantic University. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

Off-campus merchandisers of Bulls apparel and other gear had a common lament Monday.

They needed more – more jerseys, more T-shirts, more USF tattoos, more car flags, more green and gold pompoms.

Almost as fast as the Bulls’ meteoric rise to ranks of the college football elite, merchandise has flown from the shelves of local retailers, leaving racks barren and shelves sparse while creating a lengthening queue of backed-up internet orders.

As support for the green-and-gold booms, those who benefit financially from the Bulls’ burgeoning national recognition are ready to reap the rewards of national brand exposure.

“Our stuff is going to be selling throughout the country,” said Senior Associate Athletic Director Bill McGillis. “We’re a hot name and we have an attractive logo and colors. The more games we have on ESPN and the more they’re talking about us and the more we’re in national polls … We’re going way beyond Tampa.”

In the campus bookstore Monday, Jessica Cura was looking for a shirt in any color but green. She already has a closetful of T-shirts in USF’s signature color. The Delta Delta Delta sorority member eventually settled on a grey USF shirt with pink lettering, along with a pair of USF socks and a green leash for her dog.

“I’m adding to the collection,” said Cura, a public relations senior who said she’s been to every USF home game since her freshman year and plans to go to the FAU game with friends. “I’m hoping we win all the rest of our games and go to a championship game or a bowl game.”

For merchandisers who trudged through the days of national anonymity, the problems attendant with ballooning demands – unstocked stock rooms, internet orders that are backed up as vendors wait for new shipments of merchandise – are welcome inconveniences.

“It’s great,” said Chris Foster, the manager of the Sports Fan Attic at University Mall. “It’s a nice problem to have.”

Foster said nearly all their Bulls merchandise has sold out, and that’s after the store more than doubled its selection of Bulls gear this season. The many items bearing USF’s name and logo have been moved from the back of the store to the front, Foster said.

For USF Athletics, the uptick in sales is also a welcome boom. Between 22 percent and 23 percent of the sales made by USF’s official merchandising partner, Bucs and Bulls Heaven, flows back to USF, said McGillis.

USF also gets a cut of the royalties from the all USF merchandise produced and sold by other companies.

The USF trademark licenses for these sales are distributed by the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), which contracts with companies to collect an 8 percent royalty fee on the sales of merchandise bearing the USF brand. Though USF’s cut of that fluctuates with the volume of sales, about 80 percent of that 8 percent comes back to USF, McGillis said.

Among the more than 160 schools that partner with the CLC, USF ranked 61st for the sales period between January and March 2007.

But USF should leapfrog many of the schools ahead of them if they keep up their winning ways, McGillis said. The Bulls are now the featured institution on the CLC Web site.

“From a revenue perspective, (the increased sales) are a nice boost,” McGillis said. “But from a branding perspective, it’s a huge boost. It’s so obvious – the heightened sense of pride at USF after winning (the West Virginia game). I saw it all over town. It’s a tremendous opportunity in terms of promoting the University and brand.”

Off-campus spots for Bulls apparel and accessories were slammed during the spending frenzy before the West Virginia game.

Gerry D’Angelo, executive director of Bucs and Bulls Heaven, an off-campus outfitter, said that last week’s sales had tripled or quadrupled those from the same time last year.

“Last week was an unprecedented week of sales,” D’Angelo said. “There was just an unbelievable demand for USF merchandise. We were just jamming.”

To accommodate all the extra demand, D’Angelo said the store has expanded the floor space for Bulls merchandise by about 500 square feet, from 1,500 to 2,000.

At Bulls Outfitter, another off-campus retailer, internet orders are backed up at least a week longer than usual, said owner Craig Brunstein, adding that he had been on the phone all day Monday making orders.

“First the green stuff went, then everything else followed,” Brunstein said.

Grace McQueen, store manager USF Tampa Bookstore, said she estimated 1,500 people had come into the store on Friday, usually the slowest sales day of the week.

“The Saturday after the game, before they left, people were buying armloads of stuff on the way home,” said McQueen. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Reporting from Victoria Bekiempis, Joshua Neiderer, Jose Lopez Jr. and Jaclyn DeVore

contributed to this report. David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or oracleguidi@gmail.com