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Volume 21 No. 1
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MainGate signed to sell Big Ten title game gear

The Big Ten Conference has signed sports retail vendor MainGate to an exclusive five-year contract to sell merchandise for its football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

MainGate’s deal also covers the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments for four years starting with the 2012-13 season. Conference officials bundled the three events when they sent a proposal to merchandise vendors competing for the job.

Football, however, is the key piece of this deal. The Big Ten’s inaugural football title game, set for Dec. 3, sold out quickly, and with a crowd of 68,000 expected, the revenue potential for retail surrounding the event tops $1 million, according to industry sources.

“We think it will be one of the largest collegiate events out there,” said John Mybeck, chief operating officer of Strategic Marketing Affiliates, the Big Ten’s licensing agency. “If we have the right two teams, it could be monstrous.”

MainGate, based in Indianapolis, operates team stores for five NFL teams, including the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. It also runs the merchandise at the NCAA Hall of Champions in its hometown.

The terms of the deal allow MainGate to sell Big Ten title game merchandise at 15 locations inside the stadium and next door at the Indiana Convention Center, where the Big Ten will stage its fan festival. In addition, MainGate will sell items at host hotels and its 3,000-square-foot Colts Pro Shop at the Circle Centre Mall downtown near the stadium. Separately, the vendor is negotiating a deal to sell Big Ten football championship merchandise at Indianapolis International Airport. No deal is signed yet for the airport, said Dave Moroknek, MainGate’s president and CEO.

As a licensee, MainGate can produce Big Ten championship apparel in addition to selling it, Mybeck said. There are some restrictions, and the details of what items MainGate can manufacture are still being worked out, he said.

Overall, the Big Ten has 30 full-time licensees. Top of the World, a Norman, Okla., company, and Blue 84, a firm in Detroit Lakes, Minn., own the exclusive rights to produce the official locker room championship hats and T-shirts, respectively, to be worn by the winning team at Lucas Oil Stadium. Those two suppliers are entering the second year of those deals for all Big Ten title events, said Brad Traviolia, the conference’s deputy commissioner.

For MainGate, the Big Ten deal is its first with a college entity other than its operation at the NCAA headquarters. The company will get additional exposure during college football season selling merchandise for the Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Maryland games at FedEx Field, where MainGate runs the NFL Redskins’ retail. The firm’s other NFL stadium accounts are at Ford Field in Detroit, the Metrodome in Minneapolis and LP Field in Nashville.

MainGate operates online merchandise business for the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams and has deals in the NBA, NHL, WNBA, pro lacrosse, auto racing and golf. The company got its start with the NHRA in 1963.

“From our standpoint, this is a great step forward in the college marketplace,” Moroknek said. “We have been holding back [in that space] until now because we are developing such a great niche in the NFL. We didn’t want to give up that momentum.”

MainGate’s presence at Lucas Oil Stadium was definitely a factor in the firm winning the Big Ten’s business, but conference officials were impressed with the company’s approach to product displays and customer service, Traviolia said.

For the Big Ten basketball tournaments, MainGate will operate retail in 2012 at Conseco Fieldhouse, where both events will be played, and in 2013 at two sites, with the men playing at United Center in Chicago and the women at Sears Centre Arena in suburban Chicago. Those events will alternate between Indianapolis and Chicago through 2016.