Utes make big bucks selling logo gear
As Saturday's rivalry football game between Utah and BYU approaches, the Utes are already beating the Cougars in a key ranking.
Utah overtook BYU in the sales of licensed fan merchandise about five years ago and hasn't looked back. According to the most recent rankings from the Collegiate Licensing Company, Utah ranks 39th in sales in the $4.3 billion industry; BYU is in 50th place. Texas, Alabama and Florida hold the top three spots.
"That's remarkable, because [BYU's] fan base is international," said Scott Dick, lead buyer for the Ute bookstore and its Red Zone stores in Layton, Sandy and West Jordan.
Owning official logo gear such as mailboxes, weather stations, alarm clocks, espresso cups, wine bottle openers, flasks, barbecue spatulas, pet pooper scoopers and dog bowls can be an obsession with some fans.
"We sell the basic items year in and year out," said Earl Clegg, director of the Utah bookstore. "But these fans are goofy. They want something new and they want to be the one to have it."
Picking items makes for a fun job. Buyers attend several national conventions and plan months ahead for special games. This year, for example, there will be a special mug for USC's first visit to Salt Lake City.
"I grew up going to the games," said Durrant Pettey, assistant buyer. "To get to help pick up the stuff people are wearing is exciting."
One big-selling item for collectors: shot glasses. BYU fans can even purchase one at their bookstore, though the 4-inch-tall logo glass is sold as a toothpick holder.
Merchandise sales are also important to the University of Utah athletic department budget.
Brett Eden, director of licensing and marketing for auxiliary services at Utah, said proceeds from merchandise sales fund student scholarships. Fans who purchase unlicensed Ute gear take scholarship cash away.
The Utes are careful to protect their drum-and-feather logo and trademark logos. Eden sends out two to five teams of people every game, looking for illegal merchandise.
That can be particularly bad during a Utah-BYU rivalry game. He has a closet full of illegal shirts, including one with a shapely woman on it that read: "The only Cougar I like is your mom!"
If the Ute bookstore wants to use "BYU" on a T-shirt, for example, it must get its rival's permission. The Utes sent six proposed designs to BYU for Saturday's game, and the only one the Cougars approved read: "Beat BYU (again)."
What's more, Eden said fans who purchase that "Beat BYU" shirt or the USC mug should realize that part of the proceeds will go to the opposing team per licensing agreements.
Game day is huge for Clegg and his team, who sell items out of five tents, three trailers and four permanent Red Zone stores inside the stadiums.
"We do one-fifth of our annual business at the six home games at our on-campus store," said Clegg. "That's how crazy it is. In years past, on a home game, we can sell 10 percent of our entire inventory in a single game."
Being admitted to the Pacific-12 Conference has meant even more sales.
While BYU has historically been the biggest day, that is changing a good thing for Utah, since the Cougars won't be visiting Salt Lake City again until 2016 for football. Eden said the move to the Pac-12 means nearly every home game brings in a potential big moneymaker.
For Ute fans, though, this is simply fun.
After all, what would game day be like if they couldn't make toast with a Ute logo burned into the bread?