SBJ/Aug. 12-18, 2013/Colleges

A&M’s merch boom: More than Manziel

Texas A&M sold a school-record $70 million worth of licensed merchandise during the most recent fiscal year, and not all of it was in the form of Johnny Manziel’s No. 2 football jersey.

While the Aggies’ Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback certainly contributed to the elevated sales, school officials said several factors led to their best year ever, mostly a new brand strategy and the move to the SEC.

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Gross royalties grew to an all-time high of $3.939 million in 2012-13, the Aggies’ first in their new conference, up from $3.23 million the year before. The fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30. But that 22 percent spike in sales of A&M gear wasn’t an anomaly as it came on the heels of a 23 percent jump in royalties in 2011-12 — the year before anyone knew who Manziel was.

In fact, the school that for years was in the shadow of the University of Texas has been seeing its licensing royalties grow exponentially in recent years.

Over the past two years combined, Texas A&M’s licensing revenue has shot up from $2.6 million to nearly $4 million. Over the last five years, licensing revenue has more than doubled from $1.9 million. Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co., a division of IMG College, is the school’s licensing agent.

Heisman winner Johnny Manziel’s jerseys helped the surge in sales.

“One thing that has become evident during our annual review with CLC is that our licensing program is stronger than one season or one player,” said Jason Cook, Texas A&M’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs.

Cook mostly credits the increased licensing revenue to the move to the SEC, as well as an integrated approach across all of campus. Whether it’s the athletic department or the English department, they’re all using the same A&M marks for a “one brand approach,” Cook said. That is a rare approach as many schools use a seal or some other mark that’s not consistent with athletics.

On the strength of those increases, A&M leaped to 12th from 19th in CLC’s 2012-13 year-end rankings of top-selling schools, passing SEC brethren South Carolina and Tennessee in the process (see chart).

The year-over-year increases can be traced to several developments, Cook said. The Aggies were in their first football season as a member of the SEC in 2012, which coincided with football coach Kevin Sumlin’s first season at A&M. The Aggies sold more co-branded apparel with A&M and SEC marks than any other school, said Cory Moss, senior vice president and managing director of CLC.

“We’re seeing some [retail] penetration in the state of Texas that they didn’t have before,” Moss said.

The Aggies also were more successful on the field than anyone expected, winning 11 football games — the most victories in 15 years — and planting the only blemish on Alabama’s otherwise impeccable record.

And then, of course, there was Manziel, the talk of college football who eventually became the first freshman to win the Heisman last season. His visibility soared over the course of the season and certainly contributed to the surge in sales with his

No. 2 jersey, but school officials are reluctant to credit an individual player for such sustained growth.

The NCAA is investigating whether Manziel took money for signing autographs, a violation that could threaten his eligibility, according to an ESPN report.

Other factors helped set the table for A&M’s sustained licensing growth, the school said. In 2008, the Aggies hired Shane Hinckley as assistant vice president of business development with oversight of licensing campuswide. Hinckley served on the board of directors for the International Collegiate Licensing Association from 2006 to 2012, and was its president in 2010-11.

In 2009, A&M brought on CLC. Subsequently, A&M merchandise has moved into more national chains such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Aeropostale, Old Navy, Target and Wal-Mart.

CLC also credited Adidas outerwear and performance wear for delivering greater sales. Adidas has been the school’s shoe and apparel partner since 2007.

“They’ve also done a great job of building their brand,” Moss said of A&M. “They’re in new retail categories and they’re in new product categories.”

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