Basketball's bounce

Success of UT men's team means bigger market for gear celebrating program

Sporting an ill-fitting Vols cap and brandishing his sippy cup, 20-month-old Manning Brooks waits for the start of the men's basketball game Wednesday against Auburn. Manning is named after former UT quarterback Peyton Manning.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Sporting an ill-fitting Vols cap and brandishing his sippy cup, 20-month-old Manning Brooks waits for the start of the men's basketball game Wednesday against Auburn. Manning is named after former UT quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Thompson-Boling experience

Joe Cudahy (center) with Tennessee Traditions shows a basketball jersey to souvenir buyers at the men's basketball game. Tennessee Traditions sells merchandise at most UT sport events.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess // Buy this photo

Joe Cudahy (center) with Tennessee Traditions shows a basketball jersey to souvenir buyers at the men's basketball game. Tennessee Traditions sells merchandise at most UT sport events.

Sporting an ill-fitting Vols cap and brandishing his sippy cup, 20-month-old Manning Brooks waits for the start of the men's basketball game Wednesday against Auburn. Manning is named after former UT quarterback Peyton Manning.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess // Buy this photo

Sporting an ill-fitting Vols cap and brandishing his sippy cup, 20-month-old Manning Brooks waits for the start of the men's basketball game Wednesday against Auburn. Manning is named after former UT quarterback Peyton Manning.

Saturday's matchup between the Big Orange and the Big Blue in Memphis may have more people than ever seeing green.

"The last few weeks have really been different for basketball," said Todd Perkins, merchandising manager for HoundDogs, a local chain of sports merchandise stores. "People talk about football all the time, but now people are requesting more basketball items and there is more of a general buzz about basketball."

"Got Pearl?" is a logo on one of HoundDogs' best-selling T-shirts, but it's apparently more than just a slogan. Perkins said he noticed this week a rise in requests for basketballs to autograph. After asking customers why all the interest, he learned University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl was getting ready for another local autograph session and fans wanted to be ready for it.

"Coach Pearl is accessible, and because of that, you really see a big difference," Perkins said.

Chris Fuller tends to agree. The associate athletic director for sales and marketing at UT said fans are clamoring for Vols basketball merchandise, prompting the athletics department to lobby major retailers to stock more Big Orange stuff.

In fact, Fuller said UT has invited representatives from large retailers to the UT-South Carolina game next month to witness the phenomenon.

"I don't think we've fully capitalized on it. We need to get our retailers to have confidence to purchase (Vols basketball) merchandise 12 to 18 months in advance," Fuller said. "In basketball, we are capable of much bigger numbers."

While Fuller doesn't have firm revenue numbers for Vols basketball merchandise sales, he said overall merchandise sales are up 31 percent for the 2007-2008 academic year versus the same prior-year period. He said Internet sales are up 44 percent in the same period and sales at specific events for football and basketball have increased 21 percent.

Fuller doesn't attribute all the increases to Pearl's basketball program; he said football posted significant growth, too. But he's aware of the impact Pearl is having. The coach's marketing prowess is evident with the national spotlight his team has attracted. Pearl is a regular on ESPN highlight reels, and his team is in demand for regional and national game telecasts.

Tiffany Carpenter, director of public relations for UT's athletics department, said her office each day receives at least three to four requests for Pearl to speak, and those requests have picked up since the latest Associated Press poll ranked the Vols second in the nation, just behind the University of Memphis. Carpenter said her office is overwhelmed with fans dropping off items for Pearl to sign and is asking them to not bring them in until after April.

"In the past, we've had to be more proactive (in marketing basketball)," said Carpenter. "This year people are really excited about Tennessee basketball and they are contacting us more for tickets and promotion."

This week the men's team is ranked higher than the Lady Vols for the first time since 1982.

"It's interesting," Carpenter said. "Football has always sold itself; now it's nice to have basketball selling itself."

Carpenter believes the relationship between UT basketball coaches Pearl and Pat Summitt and UT football coach Phillip Fulmer is helping take UT athletics to a higher level.

UT is the only school in the country to have three top-five attendance rankings in athletics (men's basketball, women's basketball and football).

"The attention that the University of Tennessee gets nationally is something the men (basketball team) have never experienced," said Carpenter. "It helps the image of the University of Tennessee."

Jed Dance knows quite a bit about how a team's success can boost sales. He is vice president of Bacon & Co., a Knoxville-based wholesale merchandise business that has produced and distributed UT merchandise since 1925. Bacon & Co. makes T-shirts, collectibles and novelty items for about 20 schools.

"When they are winning there is no question sales are better," Dance said. "The past three years with coach Pearl have definitely made a big impact. We've geared more of our items toward Tennessee basketball."

Dance and his staff work to stay ahead of the curve by watching team trends and predicting how they will translate into sales.

"It's a gamble," he said. "We're already preparing for the men's and women's tournaments."

And if Tennessee defeats Memphis Saturday, Dance promises a T-shirt commemorating the game by Sunday.

A win also would be good news for stores like Tennessee Traditions, the official store of UT athletics. Vols fans are shelling out $70 each for a pair of orange and white warm-up pants like the ones the Vols wear.

Gwena Dotson, assistant manager of the Tennessee Traditions store on campus, said the men's basketball team's success is helping sales quite a lot.

"You can tell they are doing well," Dotson said. "It's been like that with the Lady Vols in the past; now it's true for the men."

Meanwhile, HoundDogs' Perkins said the last few weeks have really been different for basketball sales.

"We're wondering now what will happen if they make it to the Final Four," Perkins said.

It's a question he and other retailers are hoping the Vols can answer.

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Comments » 8

eb502us#225637 writes:

Recent rumor going around is that Buzz Peterson really wasn't fired, he actually resigned due to hand and arm fatigue. Maybe that's why he could never draw up a basketball game plan.

johnlg00 writes:

IU would be pretty stupid not to pursue CBP, and he may well feel somewhat obligated to talk to them. It would be foolish of us to think that we won't have to work to keep him. I still think that unless perhaps they offer him something in the $4-5 mil range, the UTAD will pay whatever it takes to keep him. It just makes good business sense, as this article suggests, to keep him as long as possible. We still have room for average attendance to grow, we still haven't reached our potential for TV exposure, and we sell more basketball-themed kitsch all the time. All of those are ways to make pretty much whatever it takes to keep CBP without drawing on any additional UTAD resources. Needless to say, I would be CRUSHED if he leaves before he wins us a national championship(;-()!

bleed_orange writes:

IU would probally be the only school I could see Coach leaving us for. I don't see him going to the NBA to coach. The schools like Duke, N Carolina, Kansas, and UCLA are the other schools he might leave for. However, it's a good thing that those schools are not looking for a new head coach. I guess I'm selfish, I would like to see him stay at UT until he retires. I couldn't see Pat coaching any other women's college team. She could coach in the WNBA. Pat could coach any where she wants even a men's college team. But I don't want either one to leave to coach any where but BIG ORANGE COUNTRY! Bruce had said one time that he wouldn't leave at least until his contract was up (which is 1 more year). Please, quick sign him to another 4 or 5 years. Let me take that back - sign him for 10-15 years! GO VOLS-BEAT MEMPHIS!

johnlg00 writes:

Gosh, I hope you're right, Foolmore! It is not, after all, as if he were an IU alum or former assistant there. After all of CBP's talk of commitment and honoring contracts, it would be hard for me to get over it if he turned out to be just another coaching mercenary. I hope an extension and a raise is in the works already. It would certainly help recruiting if prospects could be reasonably sure CBP was going to be here for a while. I think with all the respect and support he has given them, CPF and CPS would not stand in the way if we needed to bump CBP's salary over theirs, at least temporarily, in order to keep him. As I indicated elsewhere, the bball program is more than earning its keep these days, and there is still room for growth in its revenues.

bleed_orange writes:

Foolmore and johnlg00, I think both of you guys are right. Pearl for President-ha,ha. We have Tyler, JP, & Brian and they have D Rose (who is very very good), But I think Tyler is better. I hope JP has a good game in his home town. Maybe he can find a soft FT shooting touch for Saturday's game. I doubt it. Well, maybe they will only foul him on 3pt shoots or dunks (that go in). We need some big game on the boards from Duke, Wayne, Brian, and Tyler (Ryan if he plays). We also need some 3pt shots from Chris & Jajuan. Ramar, I think will have a good game. 1 or 2 good 3pt shots from Jordan would be a bonus. It goes with out saying we need a best defensive effort of the season. However, save some for Tuesday night VS Vandy. Hey, their #1 and we're #2 let's play are best- we got nothing to lose. All the pressure is on Memphis. GO BIG ORANGE! TAME THOSE TIGERS! GO VOLS! BEAT MEMPHIS! How about the state of TN having the #1 & #2 teams in the NCAA!

hdhurst writes:

It would shock me that Pearl would leave, if he chose to. From what I gather, he thinks committment along the lines of Roy Williams, Mike K, Pat Summitt, et. al (those have long standing traditions at schools). However, money talks these days. It probably wouldn't hurt him to test the waters, certainly in regards to getting a pay increase. I don't attend UT right now, so I can endorse that. GO VOLS...start it in FedEx, finish it on Beale street.

coach75 writes:

i would hope that mike hamilton would be smart enough to match whatever offer any school would try to offer him. mike, do not let one of the best coaches in college basketball get away from us. we love you bruce. please stay until you grow old and retire.

jevolball7 writes:

We all need to remember, if we raise BP's salary, it must be doubled. Pat's salary will have to match his. You surely all know that she is the reason for the new Tommy Bowl and the Pratt practice facility. LOL! We have the $ to match any school,but it's harder when you have to pay a non revenue sports coach the same. If he leaves you can bet it will be because he will be tired of being her equal. What a joke! Hope she retires first.

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