Fighting Sioux stockpile: As stores rushed to stock merchandise with nickname, logo, UND royalties spiked
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo were retired more than a year ago, but T-shirts, water bottles and other merchandise bearing the controversial symbol can still be seen in stores around Grand Forks.
That’s because businesses have spent several years stockpiling enough merchandise for sale to Fighting Sioux fans well into the future.
For UND, that means a massive spike in royalty payments, which, as of last year, were still way above average.
At the Sioux Shop in Ralph Engelstad Arena on campus, arena General Manager Jody Hodgson said that deciding how much to purchase of what item was difficult. “We made purchases in an attempt to anticipate demand in a situation that none of us have ever seen before.”
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university was aware that wholesalers would take advantage of the situation.
“Any time a very popular image and name comes to an end, it made sense that there would be some stockpiling,” he said. “We fully anticipated that that would happen. That was beyond our control.”
But in comparison to the amount of merchandise with the current “North Dakota” logo on display, there is substantially less Fighting Sioux gear being sold.
“If you’d have come in the store in October and then came in today, you would notice an obvious difference,” said Jason Carlson, the Sioux Shop’s manager.
The nickname and logo are popular locally, including among some American Indians, but the NCAA considers the symbols offensive to Indians and threatened sanctions. The symbols were officially retired Dec. 31, 2012, after the state failed to convince the NCAA otherwise. Wholesalers, however, had until March 31, 2013, to manufacture as much merchandise as they could to sell to retailers, such as the Sioux Shop and Scheels All Sports.
Because UND sells the license to use its logos and marks to the wholesalers, the more merchandise that’s made, the more the university earns. From 2008 to 2010, UND made an average of $279,000 each year in royalties from all marks and logos, including the Fighting Sioux.
When the controversy came to a head in 2011, royalty payments abruptly jumped to more than $624,000. Royalties remained high at more than $606,000 in 2012 and decreased to about $520,000 in 2013.
Hodgson is shy about how much merchandise the Sioux Shop stockpiled and Scheels declined to comment.
Carlson did explain how the Sioux Shop chose different amounts of merchandise to stockpile. For example, the store purchased more small items, such as hats and patches, because they are easier to store. It also stocked up on best sellers such as men’s hockey jerseys.
“We tried to forecast what we could for what we could sell and what we could store,” Carlson said. “It’s an extended guessing game.”
The store is running out of these best sellers in popular sizes, he said. For example, the majority of Sioux replica jerseys left are in size XXL and higher, he said. “The average person isn’t going to be interested in a 4XL jersey.”
At the Scheels store in Grand Forks, there is still a substantial amount of “Fighting Sioux” T-shirts and water bottles, but not jerseys.
In Reynolds, Frank Haynes is offering an alternative.
The UND graduate makes and sells T-shirts from his home mostly through his website, SiouxPride.com. Since UND doesn’t own the rights to the word “Sioux,” Haynes’ operation is completely legal, even though his shirts sport phrases like, “Once a Sioux, always a Sioux.”
But Haynes said he sells mostly to Indians.
“When I sold in Devils Lake, I heard a lot of people say ‘I love the Sioux name, I’m very proud of it, it doesn’t matter to me that somebody is using it as a nickname,’” he said.
He admitted that even though he’s benefited from a secondary market of UND sports fans, it was never his intention. “I’m very careful not to associate myself with UND or the Fighting Sioux name.”
Other websites, such as Cafepress.com, also sell Sioux merchandise but don’t use the official logo or wording.
Johnson said Haynes’ business was completely acceptable to UND as long as the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname aren’t used.
“That’s the free market system that we live in,” he said. “For those individuals who had the ability and the desire to exercise their free market rights, more power to them.”
Nickname lives on
Though the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo have been retired, UND still must use them periodically to retain ownership.
Johnson said there are plans to sell special edition items on the anniversaries of championships and other special occasions. “In order to retain the mark from that standpoint we have to show some kind of commercial use of it, but it doesn’t have to be constant.”
Last September, a proposed ban on all Fighting Sioux apparel at Student Senate meetings didn’t pass because of free speech concerns.
Student body President Nick Creamer said the mood on campus really reflects an attachment to the history that goes along with the Fighting Sioux name.
“It’s not something that’s going to go away today or tomorrow,” he said. “People still choose to associate the nickname with the university, especially in the sports arena. I think it’s going to be awhile before it ever goes away and it makes sense to me because there’s so much tradition and heritage.”
Carlson said people thought it was going to be like a light switch and there wouldn’t be any Fighting Sioux gear available at all, but that’s simply not the case.
“It’s an evolution,” he said.