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Anna Burleson / Forum News Service, Published March 27 2014

Sioux stuff still sells in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo were retired more than a year ago, but T-shirts, water bottles and other merchandise bearing the controversial symbol can still be seen in stores around Grand Forks.

That’s because businesses have spent several years stockpiling enough merchandise for sale to Fighting Sioux fans well into the future.

For UND, that means a massive spike in royalty payments, which, as of last year, were still way above average.

At the Sioux Shop in Ralph Engelstad Arena on campus, arena general manager Jody Hodgson said that deciding how much to purchase of what item was difficult. “We made purchases in an attempt to anticipate demand in a situation that none of us have ever seen before.”

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university was aware that wholesalers would take advantage of the situation.

“Any time a very popular image and name comes to an end, it made sense that there would be some stockpiling,” he said. “We fully anticipated that that would happen. That was beyond our control.”

But in comparison to the amount of merchandise with the current “North Dakota” logo on display, there is substantially less Fighting Sioux gear being sold.

“If you’d have come in the store in October and then came in today, you would notice an obvious difference,” said Jason Carlson, the Sioux Shop’s manager.

The nickname and logo are popular locally, including among some American Indians, but the NCAA considers the symbols offensive to Indians and threatened sanctions. The symbols were officially retired Dec. 31, 2012, after the state failed to convince the NCAA otherwise. Wholesalers, however, had until March 31, 2013, to manufacture as much merchandise as they could to sell to retailers, such as the Sioux Shop and Scheels All Sports.

Because UND sells the license to use its logos and marks to the wholesalers, the more merchandise that’s made, the more the university earns. From 2008 to 2010, UND made an average of $279,000 each year in royalties from all marks and logos, including the Fighting Sioux.

When the controversy came to a head in 2011, royalty payments abruptly jumped to more than $624,000. Royalties remained high at more than $606,000 in 2012 and decreased to about $520,000 in 2013.

Hodgson is shy about how much merchandise the Sioux Shop stockpiled, and Scheels declined to comment.

Carlson did explain how the Sioux Shop chose different amounts of merchandise to stockpile. For example, the store purchased more small items, such as hats and patches, because they are easier to store. It also stocked up on best sellers such as men’s hockey jerseys.

“We tried to forecast what we could for what we could sell and what we could store,” Carlson said. “It’s an extended guessing game.”

In Reynolds, N.D., Frank Haynes is offering an alternative.

The UND graduate makes and sells T-shirts from his home mostly through his website, SiouxPride.com. Since UND doesn’t own the rights to the word “Sioux,” Haynes’ operation is completely legal, even though his shirts sport phrases like, “Once a Sioux, always a Sioux.”

But Haynes said he sells mostly to Native Americans.

“When I sold in Devils Lake, I heard a lot of people say, ‘I love the Sioux name, I’m very proud of it. It doesn’t matter to me that somebody is using it as a nickname,’ ” he said.

Though the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo have been retired, UND still must use them periodically to retain ownership.

Johnson said there are plans to sell special-edition items on the anniversaries of championships and other special occasions. “In order to retain the mark from that standpoint we have to show some kind of commercial use of it, but it doesn’t have to be constant.”

Burleson writes for the Grand Forks Herald