Coffins lift lid on logo mania

December 29, 1995

Squeezed by higher costs and lower subsidies, an increasing number of universities and colleges in the United States are raising money by overseas sales of some of their most valuable assets: their names and trademarks.

University logos are for sale on everything from the traditional T-shirts, baseball caps and beer mugs to the more unconventional toilet seats, cologne, dog dishes and bottled water. The colleges are eyeing European and Asian markets for expansion.

"Our growth is going to come overseas, there's no question," said Rick van Brimmer, director of licensing for Ohio State University.

More than $2 billion worth of merchandise bearing the logos of universities is expected to be sold this year in the US alone. This is double the 1990 figure, according to the Association of Collegiate Licensing Administrators.

"Domestically, it's exploded over the past 15 years and many schools, including ours, are looking overseas to continue that growth," Mr van Brimmer said. "That's a market that hasn't been tapped as much."

Universities are taking measures to protect their share. They have hired lawyers, licensing agents and private investigators to sniff out and stop the unauthorised use of their names and logos, and cracked down on manufacturers reproducing their trademarks without paying a fee.

"Our name is very valuable to us," said Carol Kaesebier, a lawyer who handles infringement cases for the University of Notre Dame and president of the Association of Collegiate Licensing Administrators. "We were very concerned that, if we did not register our trademarks internationally, people would infringe on them."

The stakes are high. Universities get about 7 per cent of the wholesale revenues from trademarked merchandise, or an estimated $70 million this year. A few schools, mostly large public universities in the midwest and south, account for most of that amount, relying on their nationally televised sports teams for publicity.

Overseas, however, university officials think "it's the American college look that is selling, rather than particular schools", as Mr van Brimmer puts it. That may change as US collegiate sport becomes increasingly available on European satellite and cable television.

Movie tie-ins that have increased sales in the US also may help abroad; sales of University of Michigan T-shirts took off when they were featured in the film The Big Chill in 1983, for instance, and Notre Dame merchandise sold briskly after the release of Rudy, a 1993 production about a man who overcame great odds to play American football at that school.

"We're becoming such a small world that there is an identity with American universities," said Ms Kaesebier. "We certainly are trying to increase our identity over there, and that's starting to pay off."

The potential is luring more and more universities and colleges into the business. More than half of universities that sell their trademarks started doing so since 1990.

The average school sells its name for use on 262 diffeent products. Some put out catalogues and one, Pennsylvania State University, licenses 2,000 separate items.

Ohio State and Texas A&M University fans even can be buried in a casket with the logo of their schools inside the lid. "It's the ultimate gift," Mr van Brimmer said.

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