Chief items still available online
Chief Illiniwek fans can still buy merchandise with the Chief logo — officially or unofficially — but sales of such items no longer generates sizable income for the university, figures show.
The UI retained ownership of the Chief logo when the symbol was retired in 2007 and ordered its 400 licensees to end production of most Chief Illiniwek goods by the end of that year. A few retailers stocked up, and items were still available on store shelves for several years, with a few even popping up last spring, said Assistant Athletic Director Marty Kaufmann, who oversees licensing and corporate sponsorships.
In 2009, the Chief logo was added to Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co.'s College Vault program, which licenses vintage collegiate logos, emblems and other images. Through that program a limited number of official Chief shirts, hats and even a Chief trailer hitch are still available online, though they're not sold in stores.
Under trademark laws, the university has to use the Chief logo or it would fall into the public domain.
Royalties from the sale of Chief Illiniwek merchandise now total about $6,000 a year — a mere fraction of the total $1.9 million in annual licensing income for the campus, Kaufmann said. The number has grown slightly each year, though he doesn't expect sales to rise much above $10,000 or $12,000 in the future.
"It's certainly real dollars, but it's not even 1 percent of what we're doing," he said.
He estimated that sales of Chief merchandise totaled about $200,000 a year before the Chief's retirement, though they weren't tracked separately.
Overall licensing income has been relatively stable since 2007, though numbers are affected by the success (or lack thereof) of the football and basketball teams, Kaufmann said. The total rose above $2 million in 2008-09, part of a "bump" following the UI's Rose Bowl appearance in January 2008 and as fans stocked up on Chief merchandise, he said. The UI also increased its royalty rate in April 2008, from 8 percent to 10 percent of the wholesale cost, he said.
"Anytime you have success, there's more interest," he said.
He's estimating that total revenue may drop this fiscal year by about 10 percent, based on sales from the first two quarters.
Official Chief merchandise can be found at several online retailers, including Follett's, TIS and Fans Edge. The UI's own stores or websites aren't allowed to sell it because of NCAA rules, he said.
Kaufmann said the university tries to stay ahead of unauthorized merchandise bearing the Chief logo.
"Occasionally we find some things, we address it and have it removed," he said. "You won't find it in local stores."
UI officials acknowledge that not having a mascot cuts into their potential licensing revenue but say that was true before the Chief's retirement because it wasn't a typical mascot. There were no stuffed Chief toys or children's books, for example, given the nature of the symbol and the debate that swirled around the Chief for two decades.
"I do think that not having a mascot limits some things that can be done. That was true even before 2007," Kaufmann said. "We always treated Chief Illiniwek as a symbol and not a mascot, even in our licensing."
UI's Gross licensing revenue
2012-13: $1,124,378 (first two quarters)
*Royalty Rate went from 8% to 10% on April 1, 2008
The UI did not track royalties from Chief merchandise separately until 2009, when it placed the Chief in a separate program for vintage logos through Collegiate Licensing Co. in order to retain its ownership of the Chief trademark.
2012-13: $3,335 (first two quarters)
Source: University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics