Georgia football fans have proven, again and again, their devotion to their favorite team with their wallets and their credit cards.
The Bulldog Nation has displayed a willingness to go big or go home in this historic season with its spending on tickets, travel and accommodations for Georgia’s New Year’s Day victory over Oklahoma in the iconic Rose Bowl. And fans have experienced another round of shelling out the bucks for Monday’s national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia is often listed among the colleges that lead the way in merchandise sales and the Bulldogs realize their own not-insignificant chunk of the billions of dollars spent each year by college athletics fans throughout the country.
And, not surprisingly, Georgia’s already-healthy sales went through the roof with the team’s success this season.
Sales at a peak
“Overall retail sales of officially licensed products are at a peak,” said Alan Thomas, the Georgia Athletic Association’s associate athletic director for external operations. “It’s been a tremendous boon for local retailers, a tremendous boon for campus retailers and a tremendous boon for our partner retailers.
“Retail-wise, it’s significant and probably record-setting. We won’t really know that until a little more time has passed, but in the month of December alone, it’s hit a peak for us, no doubt about that.”
Howard Taylor, group vice president for the Follett Higher Education Group, which since 2003 has owned and operated the University of Georgia Bookstore on campus, says he had a feeling in August that the store would have a special season in terms of sales, and the numbers have proven him correct.
“At the end of August, before we played one home game, our clothing sales were up 3.9 percent, and that’s typical in our fiscal year, five months into the year,” said Taylor. “It was a good number and we were happy with that and at the end of December, our clothing sales finished up 34.2 percent. That’s what happened in four months – basically a 4-percent increase to a 34-percent increase.
“It all started Dec. 2 with the SEC championship game, since it’s been 12 years since they last won the SEC. Then combine that with playing in the Rose Bowl and playing for a potential national championship. Those were key factors that drove sales. People wanted Rose Bowl-bound merchandise, which is what drove December sales, which were up over 250 percent.”
Taylor says that while the Bulldogs’ postseason successes have certainly helped the bookstore’s bottom line, it was a magical season for several reasons, the first being there were no noon home games in 2017.
It also didn’t hurt that Georgia won all six of its home contests for the first time since 2012.
“When you get six good game times and six wins, that’s pretty special. That helped the cause for sure,” he said, adding that the store’s online sales have also been impressive.
License to bill
Thomas assented that the athletic association has the final say over the design of products utilizing the Georgia trademark and Taylor says new items have been arriving daily. In addition to the assortment of SEC-, Rose Bowl- and national championship-centric T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, he says a popular-selling item has been a panorama of the Rose Bowl with the scoreboard showing the Bulldogs’ victory.
The athletic association is set to realize even more revenue in the weeks after the national championship game as sales of Rose Bowl and national championship-related items don’t initially go directly to the affected schools.
“From a licensing perspective, it’s too early to tell the final impact,” said Thomas. “What is probably most interesting is that everything that’s tied to the Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff is not an additional licensing gain for us. All licensing dollars for the semifinal and final games all go into the normal CFP payout.
“The licensing side … that’s still strong, but probably not at record levels yet. A lot of that is because of how royalties are paid on the CFP. There’s a payout that goes to each team and licensing royalties are a part of that payout. (Every) bowl has a payout and any product specific to the Rose Bowl and the CFP Playoff game is paid into that pool for distribution, not directly to the university.”
Potential for growth
Should the Bulldogs win on Monday evening, the financial arrangements take a slightly different turn.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win the national championship, there’s a national champions’ program where there’s a significant licensing benefit directly to the university,” said Thomas.
Taylor, whose responsibilities include overseeing Follett stores in the Southeast, says the company is all-in for a Georgia victory, since there isn’t a Follett store on the University of Alabama campus. And it probably should come as no surprise that in addition to winning the Rose Bowl, the Bulldogs bested Oklahoma in merchandise sales.
“We don’t have a store in Tuscaloosa,” quipped Taylor, noting Follett has some 1,200 stores across the country. “(But) Oklahoma is one of our stores as well. I’m responsible for stores in the Southeast, so my loyalty was one place. The company was in support of Georgia over Oklahoma based on what we did in December. It was weird – the numbers I saw for Oklahoma were pitiful compared to what (Georgia) did.”
Georgia last won a national football championship in 1980 and wags joked that the Bulldogs have spent the last 37 years wringing every last merchandising dollar they could from that accomplishment. With the advent of the many kinds of technology and marketing available since that time, it’s likely anybody and everybody involved will cash in as long as possible.
“There’s great potential for growth with all of this,” said Thomas.
“We’re going to ride this one for a while,” added Taylor.