Success of UGA football reflected in merchandise sold, royalties earned

JerNiyah Beckley looked at the report on her cash register hours after the Georgia Bulldogs secured a victory against South Carolina on Sept. 7 in Sanford Stadium.

Richard Hamm/Staff
Georgia fans cheer as Missouri defeats Georgia 41-26 at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Athens, Ga.

She raised her eyebrows, impressed.

“On a normal day, the balance at the end is like $1,000,” said Beckley, an employee at the University of Georgia Bookstore. “But on a gameday, I look at my balance and it’s somewhere between $12,000 and $24,000.”

Unlike weekdays when only four to five registers are staffed, there are cashiers at every register on football Saturdays in Athens, each one of them reporting a similar total at closing. The cashiers have all come to expect such huge reports on game days that it’s shocking when they make only $10,000.

“From the first game, it was about $16,000 and (against Appalachian State) it was around $10,000,” said Sam Lane, Beckley’s coworker. “Now that there’s less of a chance of a national championship, people are less excited.”

UGA relies on revenues from merchandise sold on gamedays to fund its operating business. The royalties earned by the UGA Athletic Association fluctuate based on the success of Georgia’s teams.

Alan Thomas, UGA’s associate athletic director for external operations, said athletics earned $5.383 million from royalties last year, a year in which the Bulldogs missed a shot at the national title by a few yards in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Alabama.

However, another bookstore employee, Rachel Smith, said she hasn’t noticed a significant difference in traffic to the store after a win or a loss. People still come in after games, even following the Bulldogs 41-26 loss to the Missouri Tigers on Oct. 12.

“It was very strange,” Smith said. “But when we won against LSU, we didn’t have as many people (come in). People were just going downtown. You can watch them from the window, a herd of them walking past.”

But Smith said she has noticed that the size of the purchase is a lot smaller when the Bulldogs lose than when they win. She said her managers, who could not be reached for this story, told her wins do a lot for the UGA Bookstore’s bottom line.

“I developed a pretty simple equation,” said Steve Towe, who is the owner of the Georgia speciality store Red Zone. “Winning makes people happy, and happy people like to spend money.”

Towe said his Clayton Street store is a zoo when the football team plays at home. People walk in and out the doors in a constant flux, especially if the game has a kickoff scheduled after 3 p.m. The crowds are more relaxed and willing to spend time in downtown stores than they would be if the game started at noon, he said.

Just by virtue of home games being scheduled six to seven times in a year, stores specializing in Georgia memorabilia are able to boost their revenues on a handful of Saturdays in the fall. Neither Towe nor Lisa Royals, whose family owns the Clubhouse on College Avenue, related a specific number but they know, just by the volume of people in their stores, that gamedays are when they make a big portion of their money.

“(Weekdays are) not even in the same ballpark,” Royals said. “No comparison to gamedays.”

Royalties partially dependent on team success

More than a decade ago, the landscape of collegiate licensing underwent a massive overhaul. Suddenly, college logos began to appear on products other than the standard T-shirt and ball cap, such as office items and home decor, even bags of potato chips and chocolate bar wrappers. As a result, athletic associations across the country saw a rise in gross royalties for collegiate merchandise. UGA athletics, for example, grossed $1.388 million in royalties in fiscal year 2001-02, Thomas said. The next year, royalties grossed $1.93 million, an increase of about a half million.

“The licensing business has exploded in the last 10 years,” Thomas said. “There’s just a much larger breadth of product (to sell).”

Though the pool of available Georgia products has increased over the years, which is part of the reason for the last 12 years of growth in royalties, Thomas acknowledged that the success of Georgia sports has something to do with the growth as well.

By the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year, royalties had dipped nearly $900,000 from the previous year’s revenues of $5.634 million. The difference could be attributed to the success of the 2009 football team, which went 8-5 after going 10-3 the previous season.

The Bulldogs may have won only two Southeastern Conference titles in football in that time period, but the school has continued to receive more royalties for Georgia merchandise for other reasons. Since 2000, the Bulldogs have won 21 different national championships spread across swimming and diving, equestrian, gymnastics, men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis.

“The schools that win national championships see a significant push in their licensing revenues,” Thomas said. “When you win a national championship, you take on a more national effect because of the exposure that goes with it.”

Thomas predicted that if Georgia won a national championship in football, royalties would gross more than $9 million, nearly twice the amount made last year ($5.383 million). Georgia merchandise royalties could climb even if the football team lost in a national championship, as evidenced by Notre Dame’s climb up the list of top grossing schools after appearing in the 2013 title game, according to ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell. (Notre Dame went from ninth to third in one year.)

“I don’t really think that Georgia fans get down for that long,” Towe said. “Everybody’s disappointed when they lose but there’s always next week. I see a quick rebound in attitude. People take a couple of days to pout and then it’s back to business.”

But once the football season is over, the rush trickles down. Red Zone and the Clubhouse don’t see nearly as much traffic in the spring as they do in the fall. Royals said the rest of the year was just a lot quieter.

Her store and other Georgia memorabilia stores like it are able to stay in business because of a constant, if somewhat dimmed, demand for “G” or Bulldogs-branded items.

“We’ve seen the cycle 10 times and it’s pretty much unchanged,” said Towe, who opened Red Zone in 2003. “The end of football season is also the same as the end of the calendar year and the holiday season. There’s that typical dip. We climb through December and January 1st, until the bowl game, and then (sales) take a nose dive. Then it’s a steady climb back up the ladder.”

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