The University of Arkansas cracked the top 10 list in Collegiate Licensing Company’s national rankings of top-selling institutions for the 2012-13 fiscal year. It’s the school’s highest Collegiate Licensing ranking ever.
That means in the last year, the Razorbacks sold a ton of t-shirts, hoodies, jerseys, socks, flip-flops, trinkets, Brew Pig Sooie (not to be confused with the much-beloved Woo Pig Chewy, RIP), Pop Tarts, Jell-O, this-and-thats and what-nots. And considering how awful the first half of that year was, it’s a testament to the athletic department’s marketing and branding efforts, as well as the devotion of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ fan base that people were still snapping up whatever they could find with a Razorback attached to it.
On the surface, this might seem like just another in what has been a long line of “business is good” notices over the last few years. And, yes, it should be comforting to fans that the people responsible for running the athletic department are generating high levels of revenue.
But when I read the news Monday morning, I realized something different. If you pay attention to college football beyond the goings on with the local teams, you’ve surely noticed that the major conferences are in a political battle with the NCAA regarding paying players. There hasn’t been a way to pay them that everyone agrees on, with options including full cost of attendance scholarships or a flat stipend for every player.
But one idea, which has been in the spotlight particularly in the wake of Johnny Manziel’s autograph escapades as well as the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA and EA Sports over player likenesses in video games, has been to give the players whose names or likenesses make money, cuts of the revenue. For instance, all those “anonymous” #8 Razorback jerseys people wore over the last couple of years in support of Tyler Wilson (and Tevin Mitchel had his fans too, I’m sure)? This plan would conceivably allow those players to get some of that money.
It should be noted, this plan is nowhere near coming to fruition, but it has been discussed at least in some fashion around the internet. And I’ve heard fearful rumblings from some Razorback fans because they are nervous that the gigantic fan bases at schools like Texas, Florida, or Alabama would be able to sell recruits the idea of more fans = more jersey sales = more money so come to our giant school, leaving Arkansas at a clear disadvantage.
It’s understandable why fans would feel like that. Arkansas fans have been told over and over that while Arkansas has very nice resources, the depth doesn’t compare to that of traditional “powerhouse” programs. Arkansas’ stadium is very nice, but the number of people it can hold ranks in the bottom half of the SEC. There have been some fantastic football players to come out of Arkansas, but not nearly as many elite athletes as other states produce.
But these Collegiate Licensing rankings suggest that, when it comes to supporting with dollars, Arkansas fans can absolutely compete nationally with the nation’s elite programs. And in the event schools one day are able to give players a percentage of jersey/likeness sales, the Razorbacks wouldn’t be at a disadvantage, but actually at an advantage over most schools. Last year, Arkansas outsold Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Florida State and several others. You can see the list in the press release. (Note: not every school in the country is included in these rankings, including some major ones, but still a very impressive showing from Arkansas)
Of course, this is a hypothetical situation at this point, and there are other variables that would come into play if this scenario became reality, but it is comforting to know that Arkansas is capable of competing with major schools across the country if it ever comes to pass.
This is also an example of why coaches like Bret Bielema are attracted to a place like Arkansas, where the Razorbacks are essentially the local pro team. In Wisconsin, the school competed for not just attention but dollars with pro teams like the Packers, Brewers and Bucks. In Arkansas, when fans want to buy clothes or decorations to support their local team, the vast majority of that ends up being Razorback gear. This is also why the “only game in town” point becomes a frequent recruiting tool as well. As a result, if the world of college athletics ever evolves to the point that players may get some sort of profit from merchandise sales, Arkansas will be in great shape.
That ranking says more than the athletic program makes a lot of money. It says in concrete statistics, not fluffy propaganda, that the Arkansas program is as passionate as any other fan base (and kinda crazy. Have you seen the music videos?).