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Cali Owings, Published October 11 2013

Winning football team translates into more licensing revenue for Bison brand

FARGO – Ramon Morin Jr. is one of the reasons licensing revenue for North Dakota State University Bison-branded apparel and merchandise has more than tripled in the last five years.

Morin, a stained-glass artist for 14 years, became licensed a few weeks ago to reproduce NDSU logos on stained-glass windows. He’s one of more than 270 licensees who have permission to recreate the school’s logos for profit.

The increasing number of licensed retailers and vendors seeking to ride the coattails of the winning Bison football team to huge profits led to a doubling of licensing revenue between 2011-12 and 2012-13 following NDSU’s first Football Championship Subdivision national title.

Rick Fletcher, general manager for CI Sport, which produces collegiate licensed apparel for hundreds of schools including NDSU, said wholesale sales to Scheels All Sports in Fargo and the NDSU Bookstore is at an all-time high.

“The teams that are winning and have a winning tradition tend to be bigger royalty generators,” Fletcher said.

The NDSU athletic department receives a 10 percent royalty on the wholesale cost of items produced. The royalty brought in $418,000 last year.

“Our products are strong enough that retailers are making some good money,” said Troy Goergen, senior associate athletic director for marketing and communications at NDSU. “Our goal is to help our economy and promote our brand and put people in green and gold.”

How it works

Anyone who wants to use NDSU’s namesake, marks and logos – which are all federally registered or trademarked – must apply to be licensed.

The Licensing Resource Group, a trademark management company, handles applications, royalty collection and policing on NDSU’s behalf.

Royalties are paid to LRG and dispensed quarterly to the school.

Goergen said NDSU used to do it all in-house until about 10 years ago. In order to grow its licensing program, he said the university had to affiliate with an agent or it would be too much to manage.

Final approval over all designs submitted by licensed vendors rests with the athletics marketing department. In a given day, Goergen said the department reviews between 10 and 25 designs.

That increases periodically throughout the year as vendors try to respond to big athletic successes – such hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay” or a trip to the NCAA playoffs.

Though recent successes boost sales, NDSU is well-known among LRG’s clients for its loyal fan base, said Lisa Tomlinson, vice president of marketing for the company.

While wins can broaden a fan base and propel sales, colleges also need to market for times when the teams aren’t as successful, Tomlinson said.

“Unfortunately, your team’s not going to win every year,” she said.

Protect, profit, promote

Licensing is all about balancing the three P’s – protection, profit and promotion, Goergen said.

While it’s important to get NDSU’s name out there, the school has to protect its image and watch out for people making a quick buck off of the school without paying royalties.

Because NDSU athletics staff approves all designs, the department ensures the brand isn’t associated with distasteful or inappropriate apparel or merchandise.

LRG polices the market throughout the year, looking for unlicensed products, Tomlinson said.

She said the company monitors physical stores and popular retail websites such as eBay and Etsy.

If someone is found to be selling unlicensed merchandise, the company takes steps to have the product pulled or brought into compliance, Tomlinson said.

In most cases, Goergen said offending vendors just don’t understand the licensing process and are quickly brought up to speed. They usually choose to become licensed and pay back royalties to the school.

Room to grow

With a fervent fan base and a successful football team, many expect the Bison brand to continue to grow.

“As our brand grows, you’re going to see more products,” Goergen said.

Tomlinson said NDSU’s loyal fan base and the school’s willingness to expand its brand presents a huge opportunity for retailers.

The collegiate merchandising industry used to revolve around T-shirts and sweatshirts. That isn’t the case any more in the era of mega-tailgating and “mancaves.”

“There is probably a product for every need or want that has a logo on it,” she said.

There’s been growth in recent years for housewares, upscale accessories and tailgating equipment.

“When you have that kind of passion and pride for the university, there are more ways to show it than just wearing a shirt,” Tomlinson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599