Those bags full of Notre Dame-logo merchandise visitors carry on football weekends serve a larger purpose than the straightforward use one might have for a new T-shirt, bottle of sunscreen or bag of South Bend Chocolate Co. Irish Crunch—the funds generated from royalties go directly to the University’s General Fund, says Mike Low, licensing program director. “It’s good for Notre Dame and good for Indiana,” he says. “We generate tax revenues for the state.”
There are two kinds of licensed vendors. University Vendor licensees are licensed to use ND trademarks on products sold internally only—a T-shirt for a student group or department, for example. The office’s website has a complete list of authorized vendors.
Retail licensees are companies licensed through the Collegiate Licensing Company to use University trademarks on products sold at retail outlets—on campus, locally and nationally.
Licensing is charged with protecting the University’s names, logos and other intellectual property, and Low spends quite a bit of time monitoring unauthorized uses of the University’s trademarks.
Items turn up on eBay that just aren’t in keeping with Notre Dame’s image, he says, such as T-shirts with inappropriate graphics or a replica championship ring. Rogue operators are quickly hit with a cease-and-desist letter sent by the Collegiate Licensing Co.
People frequently approach Low with ideas for licensed products. “The perception is that anyone that has ‘a great idea’ can get that idea licensed,” he says.
But the University licenses merchandise, not ideas. Who’s going to make it? Where is it going to be made? Who’s going to buy it?
“People think, ‘The bookstore will carry it,’ but the bookstore functions like any other business, expecting a certain number of unit sales,” says Low. In fact, he adds, he spends a lot of time talking people out of trying to license products.
“How much of a product will they produce? They have to consider the markup for margin, cost of inventory, of bringing a product to market. Can they produce 500 of them? How many pieces will they have to sell? Sometimes companies are successful, sometimes they’re not. We’re a big account, but that doesn’t mean we can support every product concept.”
One success story is the Sportula, a stainless-steel grill spatula with a laser-cut ND monogram. “The company (Wildman Business Group) is in Warsaw, Ind., and the product is made in Middlebury. The first year they applied for a license they were turned down, but the second year we took it to the purchasing committee. Now we’re one of their top three university licensees.”
Butter toffee peanuts and traditional salted peanuts have also been a success—those are so popular the peanuts are now sold in the stadium and at the Joyce Center.
In addition to the 180 for-profit licensees who produce logo merchandise, the University also has licensed Alta Gracia, a brand of apparel made in the Dominican Republic village of Alta Gracia that manufactures The Shirt. Alta Gracia pays workers more than three times the minimum wage for apparel workers in the region. Every Alta Gracia product carries a tag confirming that the product was sewn by workers who are paid a living wage.
What’s new with licensing this year?
The South Bend Chocolate Co., in addition to the popular Irish Crunch (caramel corn with chocolate and mint-coated almonds) and a Notre Dame-branded milk chocolate bar, has introduced two new bars, dark chocolate and Irish almond, and a line of Notre Dame-branded coffee.
The University will also be partnering with manufacturer Carhartt on a new line of workwear, including apparel, outerwear and accessories.
What Low can’t predict for any new product is consumer acceptance. There may not be 100 percent acceptance of a particular product, “but that’s why we have nearly 100 different graphics on different products,” he says. “We try to create a mix, so everyone has a great experience.”