Sales of USF specialty license plates dropped 13.6 percent in 2010, just one year after being the third fastest growing plate in Florida.
According to statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), 1,419 new USF specialty plates were issued statewide in 2010 and another 12,951 plates were renewed.
Those numbers are down from 2009, when 2,791 new plates were issued and 13,845 were renewed. The 16,636 plates issued and renewed in 2009, compared to 14,718 in 2008, made the University plates the third fastest growing from 2008, behind the University of Florida (UF) and the Army.
In 2010, USF was the 36th best selling specialty plate after being 37th in 2009. In 2008, the plate was 41st.
Despite having fewer students, USF continues to sell more specialty plates than the University of Central Florida. However, plate sales for USF are significantly lower than Florida State University, despite a larger population.
The climate was harsh on nearly all specialty plates in 2010. The highest selling plate in the state was UF, which sold 102,890 plates, with a 14.9 percent drop in sales. Of plates selling at least 7,000, the Miami Heat plate was the only one in Florida to improve in sales, going from 20,874 in 2009 to 21,600 in 2010.
John Harper, director of the USF Alumni Association, said despite selling fewer plates, there are more USF plates on the road then ever.
While Harper said sales were lower in 2010 compared to 2009, he said the numbers cannot necessarily be trusted to give an accurate report of the actual climate. In 2008, the state of Florida began allowing drivers to renew their vehicle registration every two years, rather than every year, a condition that could lead to a misrepresentation of the specialty plate popularity information provided by the DSHMV through its website.
“Because of biennial registration fees and other factors, the data on the state’s website does not accurately reflect the current number of USF plates in the Florida market,” he said. “That is no doubt why they include the disclaimer on their website that using the data for historical issuance trends could produce erroneous outcomes.”
Unlike the DSHMV, which tracks sales on an annual basis, the Alumni Association tracks revenue according to fiscal years, which begin July 1 and end June 30 of the following year.
“The number (on the road) is continuing to increase, but the growth rate has slowed,” he said. “The upward trend in the number of Bulls plates on the road is clearly shown in the steady increase in revenue below.”
Harper said $255,239 was raised from specialty licenses plate sales during fiscal year 2006-07, $337,214 in 2007-08, $358,556 in 2008-09 and $375,002 in 2009-10.
Harper said increased charges imposed by the DHSMV turned people off from purchasing or renewing plates in 2010. A previously $12 surcharge, composed of a processing fee and a plate change fee, increased to $33. USF charges its own fee of $25 for its specialty plate, but offers a voucher program, which pays for the first year’s $25 fee. The voucher can be found at usfalumni.org.
“The voucher program is immensely popular,” Harper said. “When someone purchases a USF plate, we cover the initial ($25) fee.”
During the 2009-10 fiscal year, 780 vouchers were redeemed, said Lara Wade, University spokeswoman. Wade said that so far in 2010-11, 285 vouchers have been redeemed.
Harper also credited the economy for the decrease in plate sales.
“The economy has impacted many, many people into making more discretionary expenditures,” he said. “The state tripled the fees to get a specialty plate last year, so that has turned down a lot of people.”
Harper said the Alumni Association has yet to receive an indication of how well the plates are selling in 2011.
The funds the Alumni Association raises through the program go toward funding scholarships, academic enhancement activities, fundraising efforts and programs of the association, such as the Legislative Internship programs, and the USF Ambassadors, Harper said.
The plates also serve a different purpose: promotion.
“I recommend that every student, every grad, get a (USF) plate,” he said. “It’s a tremendous branding tool for the University.”
Derick Flis, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in finance, said he purchased his USF license plate during summer 2007 before entering his freshman year at the University.
“It shows a little bit of school spirit, and it’s not something that everybody has,” he said.
Flis said he also took advantage of the voucher program.
According to the DHSMV website, the USF specialty plate program began Oct. 1, 1987. Harper said the first plate featured University mascot Rocky D. Bull, but was discontinued in 1997 when the current plate was created.
“It’s a lot different than the current plate,” he said of the old plates. “Every once in a while, you’ll see one driving around.”
The current plates may soon become a common sight on Georgia roads. Harper said the Motor Vehicle Division in the state of Georgia has given the University permission to sell plates there. Harper said plates have been on sale since the end of January.