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VOL. 35 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 23, 2011

Bowl games improve the freebies

By Joe Morris

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The 2011 Franklin American Music City Bowl watch is one of the gifts offered to Mississippi State and Wake Forest players.

Showering college football bowl participants with gifts has become a big business.

Not content with a simple gift pack, many bowls – including, for the first time, the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl – have moved to on-campus gift suites in which players are given $550 in credit and allowed to choose from a variety of products from apparel to electronics.

“The bowls are required to do gifts, and the NCAA mandates the value,” says Dave Herrell, vice president of marketing, development and communications for the Music City Bowl.

“There are 125 roster spots on each team, so at a minimum we have to do gifts for 250 student athletes. It’s a great thing for the kids because it can range from apparel to electronics, along with the watch that we have made for them.

“But it’s a lot to handle, so this year we’re working with Performance Award Center to create gift suites on each campus so the athletes can take the $550 credit and choose what they want. If they go over that, then they can pay the difference.”

And because items are bought in bulk, items usually carry price tags much lower than retail, allowing each player to rack up quite a haul.

Herrell and Performance Award Center officials characterize their partnership as a win-win. By letting an outside vendor handle merchandise selection and distribution to campuses, the Music City Bowl takes itself out of the loop.

And because PAC does this for all Bowl Championship Series bowls and many others, and has been around for more than 30 years, it has the ability to maximize value throughout the process, says Jon Cooperstein, who orchestrates the gift suites for PAC’s bowl clients.

“We’ve got a 60,000-square-foot warehouse, 26 online stores and can ship more than 1,000 packages a day,” Cooperstein says. “We work with all the major suppliers for electronics, sports equipment, watches, jewelry, sportswear and furniture, so we can be all over the place and let the bowls put together a package of products for their athletes.”

But there’s more to gift giving than just the student athlete package, however. The Music City Bowl also makes presentations to coaches and their spouses, as well as other selected participants. Participating universities also put together their own gifts, and are allowed to spend up to $350 per player.

“Some schools don’t do too much, but others might go to PAC or to us and say they’d like to order some of the watches or some of the specific athletic apparel, and we work with them on that,” Herrell says. “There are some sweats made with the schools’ logo and the bowl logo on them, and as long as you stay within the NCAA parameters you can give things like that away, as well.”

The Music City Bowl also has a hand in specialty items created for fans.

“We do sell licensed merchandise, and retain pretty tight control over the brand of the Franklin American Music City Bowl,” Herrell says. “We work with Ultimate Athletic as a vendor, and Collegiate Licensing Co. as our licensor, to approve use of the logo for specific items.”

The bowl works with Ultimate Athletic to create merchandise for sale at the game and online. The company works with the host hotels and LP Field officials for sales in those venues, as well.

Merchandising revenue also is generated from third party vendors. Anyone who wants to create a product to sell at the bowl itself, in and around downtown in the days leading up to the event or online, must submit the product for approval by Collegiate Licensing Co. and Herrell prior to its manufacturer. And while many ideas are submitted, few make the cut.

“It can be anything from T-shirts to lapel pins, and usually some kind of apparel,” Herrell says. “We get a lot of ball caps and ponchos, even umbrellas. It really depends on who the teams are, and what their fan base is like.”

Items that have never seen the light of day but remain fresh in the minds of Herrell and his fellow judges included some “hideous” sweatshirts, caps with really bad puns and even the occasional flyswatter.

“We’ve seen it all, from guitar picks on up, and some of it is pretty awful,” he says. “We really don’t want anything out there that isn’t good quality, so we’re pretty firm about what we accept.”

Approved merchandise, whether the bowl’s partners or third parties generate it, receives a holographic label to verify its authenticity. Metro police work with bowl officials to patrol in and around the stadium for bootleg items and sellers.

“We really just want to maintain quality control, but also protect our revenue stream,” Herrell says. “People are crazy about their schools, so we want to make sure they get good commemorative items, and that we are the ones selling those. It’s not a huge line item for us, but it’s something that, along with offering game-day and souvenir programs, is an important part of the overall bowl experience.”

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