Mountaineer fan support recognized for increased scholarship dol - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Mountaineer fan support recognized for increased scholarship dollars

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JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal
Tasha Ellis, sales associate at Charleston Dept. Store, shows the store’s collection of University Girls apparel. Tasha Ellis, sales associate at Charleston Dept. Store, shows the store’s collection of University Girls apparel.
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Credit is often given to a strong contingent of rowdy fans who cheer on their favorite teams from the stands — for helping rally the home team to victory with their loud support.

They don't score a basket or a touchdown.

Yet they're made to feel like contributors by coaches, players and broadcasters.

But there's no doubt in the latest high showing of West Virginia University in a Top 25 national ranking — the fans and supporters of the Mountaineers are solely responsible.

According to Collegiate Licensing Co., WVU ranked No. 17 in the nation for sales in officially licensed products for the 2012-13 fiscal year, with gross royalties standing at $3,257,415.

Many state retailers are thrilled with the popularity of WVU gear.

Charleston Dept. Store has historically been known for its jeans and shoe selections.

But it also dedicates a lot of floor space to officially licensed WVU items at its main location.

"It's 25 percent of our business," said Thomas R. King, vice president and general merchandise manager at Charleston Dept. Store. "It's made a wonderful impact on our store. 

"It gets bigger every year," King added. "We also have another store, called University Shop, located at The Shoppes at Trace Fork. It's strictly WVU (merchandise)."

Charleston Dept. Store also has a website dedicated to servicing Mountaineer fans both near and far — wvsportsfan.com.

Sales = scholarships

Keeping up with the demand is a challenge — but a worthwhile one.

"Every year, people want something new," King said. "We go to the CAMEX (Campus Market Expo) show every year. We look at new lines and there's always something new there."
Some of the more unique items sold recently include a WVU air hockey table and a WVU fire pit.

"West Virginia, by far, has the best fans," King said. "We're very lucky. They are the greatest fans, very loyal. True Mountaineer fans love us."

The good news for the school and its supporters is that it's not just about outfitting as many fans in blue and gold as possible.

When fans purchase official shirts, jerseys, caps — even lamps, bar stools, tailgating gear and garden gnomes — they are contributing toward scholarships for students who want to attend WVU. A percentage of the sales is sent directly back to the school.

"We give a lot back to the university — everything in our store is officially licensed, so about 10 percent of every sale goes directly back to the school," King confirmed. 

"It's a win-win for everyone. The better we do, the better West Virginia does."

Nationally ranked, consistently

WVU has been ranked in CLC's Top 20 institutions since the school's affiliation with CLC, ranking No. 18 in 2008-09, No. 13 in 2009-10, No. 16 in 2010-11 and No. 17 in 2011-12.

WVU signed a 10-year contract extension with CLC in 2012.

In the five years that WVU and CLC have partnered, West Virginia's royalties have increased 49 percent.

It's been a lucrative relationship.

"West Virginia has a very passionate fan base," IMG College's Andrew Giangola, vice president strategic communications, said in a prepared statement. "Additionally, the University's licensing department is very engaged in growing its brand and routinely works with retailers on marketing programs to highlight the WVU brand.

"For the past two years, the West Virginia Trademark Licensing office has promoted Mountaineer Nation Day, which engages Mountaineer fans from across the country to support the team during road football games. 

"Fans are encouraged to post pictures of their support on social media, register watch parties and decorate their office parties for a chance to win various prizes."

The latest Mountaineer Nation Day was Sept. 7 when the WVU football team visited Oklahoma.

"West Virginia has taken advantage of several national marketing initiatives created by CLC, Giangola continued. 

"They include College Colors Day and Rock Your Colors," he said. "West Virginia is very active in supporting these initiatives on campus and in its local marketplace as well as promoting the College Colors Day Spirit Cup and Rock Your Colors Naismith Student Section of the Year Award competitions."

The ladies represent

One may first think of replica jerseys and ball caps when shopping for sports fans.

But the ladies can be a lot more style conscious — and they demand a more feminine look.

"Ladies (apparel) has been our biggest area of growth," King said. "When we first started, it was about 20 percent. Now it's about 50-50, maybe even 60 percent (ladies)."

University Girls, a Charleston-based company owned by former WVU student and cheerleader Nesha Sanghavi, has helped fuel that growth.

"She's a wonderful entrepreneur," King said. "We have placed her line in our stores. She has made a great name for herself with a very unique product. We love supporting her.

"Guys can just put on a shirt that says ‘WVU' on it and we're generally happy. But the women like the style, the sparkle and the fit — from teens up to the alumni."

University Girls (ugapparel.com) has licensing agreements with about 20 schools, including Marshall University, Virginia Tech, University of Kentucky, Clemson University, University of Tennessee and the University of Louisville.