Sell What You Use, And Lose Your Powder Blues
Leaving Money On The Table No. 3 – In yet another epic Southeastern Conference college football game on September 19, the No. 11/15 Ole Miss Rebels knocked off the home stand No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, 43-37.
The win was just the second for Ole Miss (no one in Mississippi calls them “Mississippi”) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in program history (the first came in 1988).
Before the game, the Tide owned a 51-9-2 series record (not counting forfeits), sported a 25-1 record in Tuscaloosa, and had never lost two straight to the Rebels, who also upset the Tide last year, 23-17.
So that made this game a big deal.
Dating back to my memories of the 1970s and 1980s, I recall Ole Miss using various uniform-related motivational techniques for certain games, such as switching from navy jerseys in the first half to red jerseys in the second half.
Last year, in a nod to the program’s heydays under coaches Johnny Vaught from 1948-77 and Billy Brewer from 1983-94, the Rebels ditched their current navy lids and strapped on the robin-egg rotundas against backyard rival Memphis to honor the late Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed in a 1989 on-field accident.
It apparently worked, as the Rebs tamed the Tigers 24-3 and fired up the Ole Miss fan base, which heartily embraced the throwback look worn by former Rebel greats like Allen Brown, Larry Grantham, Archie Manning, Mullins, Andre Townsend, and Wesley Walls.
So this season, Ole Miss went to the powder-blue well once more for the Alabama game.
Apparently, the lucky lids worked for them again, for both the second straight season and the second time in Tuscaloosa against Alabama.
My Affinity For Powder Blue
While watching the game, I noticed many Ole Miss bench personnel wore a powder-blue jacket and/or hat, and many Rebel fans in the stands wore them, too.
Based on a personal affinity for that shade of blue, this phenomenon immediately struck me in an ironic fashion, because this powder-blue color was one of the two colors used for many years by one of my alma maters, Louisiana Tech University, which called it a “Columbia blue.”
Although the original Tech blue was a darker shade, the advent and wild success of Lady Techsters women’s basketball, who wore a shade closer to baby blue, moved the needle to the Columbia blue shade in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
I personally favored that Columbia blue, because almost no other team in sports (especially in college sports) at that time besides the Oilers used it. And I seemed to recall that the powder-blue Oilers jacket I wore in about third or fourth grade looked pretty good on me, if I did say so myself!
And, I thought, if it was good enough for he-men like me, Earl Campbell, Bum Phillips, and Kenny Stabler, dadgummit, it oughta be good enough for any male athlete!
Plus, Michael Jordan wore a similar shade in college himself! Case CLOSED!
However, Tech (we were forbidden to call it “Lah-Tech” like they do now) couldn’t run fast enough from the Columbia blue and definitively rebranded in 2003 with a “Reflex blue” (think “bright royal blue”).
Nowadays, the only Tech varsity sport allowed to use Columbia blue is the Lady Techsters basketball team.
While Tech was bailing from Columbia blue, I couldn’t help but notice how many (mostly) pro and (some, but still relatively few) NCAA Division I teams began to almost simultaneously embrace an identical or similar shade in some respect: some entirely as a primary color, some partially as a trim or alternate color, some for the first time, others for a subsequent time, and still others for throwback or fauxback uniforms:
• Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets)
• Carolina Panthers
• Charlotte Hornets (both the former and current franchises)
• Colorado Avalanche
• Denver Nuggets
• Detroit Lions (sort of, with their “Hawaii Blue”)
• Houston Dynamo
• Indiana State Sycamores
• Los Angeles Clippers
• Los Angeles Dodgers (they don’t use it in their uniforms or logos, but they paint practically every surface in and around their stadium with it)
• Kansas City Royals
• Maine Black Bears
• Memphis Grizzlies
• Miami Marlins
• Milwaukee Brewers
• New Orleans Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans)
• New York City Football Club
• North Carolina Tar Heels
• Oklahoma City Thunder
• Philadelphia Union
• San Diego Chargers
• Seattle Sounders
• Sporting Kansas City
• Tampa Bay Rays
• Tennessee Lady Vols
• Tennessee Titans (formerly Houston Oilers)
• UCLA Bruins
• Vancouver Whitecaps
• (have I made my point?)
The Business of the Blues
So now you understand the irony I saw with a meteoric Ole Miss football team banner-waving the same shade of blue that drew and bonded me to one of my alma maters, which eventually abandoned it.
You now also understand why I, a Mississippi native who pulls for all Mississippi teams to do well, felt compelled to try my hand at finding a powder-blue Nike Ole Miss cap (as seen on the Rebel sideline and fan section during the game) to add to my already embarrassingly mammoth cap collection.
Given the title of my regular column, it shouldn’t have surprised me to find dollar-green money being left on the powder-blue table, but it did.
Naturally, the first site I searched for the powder-blue lid was www.olemissteamshop.com, “the official store of the Ole Miss Rebels.”
Amid the unfolding of one of the biggest wins in program history, and amid the dozens of models offered, nary a powder-blue hat was to be found.
My search of that site quickly led me to a 47 Brand hat pictured in four different colors, one of which was powder blue.
However, when I clicked on the drop-down menu to select the powder-blue option, only navy and red options were available.
The only other powder-blue hat available at Rebel Rags turned out to be a bucket hat, which wasn’t quite what I wanted.
Two or three more shop options presented by Google proved fruitless, so I searched for the powder-blue hat by image.
Fortunately, I found an image of a powder-blue Nike model (officially labeled as “Valor Blue” by Nike), which was available at www.collegecornerstore.com, another online and brick-and-mortar store in Ridgeland, Miss.
This time, the hat was both pictured AND in stock, so as the Rebels clock rang up their win, I rang up a purchase and made the Ole Miss powder-blue hat the latest in my collection.
By now, the lesson here is obvious and simple: to maximize revenue potential, stock what you use. And stock plenty of it.
The blame for a relative lack of powder-blue Ole Miss hats (and other powder-blue merchandise) available for purchase during this epic victory could lie anywhere.
More than likely, the truth of the scenario would read like that “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody” proverb.
But the bottom line is this:
• Perhaps they didn’t, but I’m guessing retailers probably knew well in advance that Ole Miss would break out the powder-blue lids again this year for the Bama game. Did they request any related merchandise to stock? Apparently, at least a limited amount was available. A smart retailer would’ve ordered every available stitch of it, because, even if Alabama had beaten Ole Miss, it probably wouldn’t have been the last time the Rebels used the powder blues within the next couple of seasons. Plus, it’s an alternate color attached to a historic, nostalgic element within the program, which has proven to be a popular concept for retailing. And the holiday and bowl seasons are around the corner, so even if the retailer doesn’t sell a reasonable amount of it on powder-blue weekend, odds are that very little of the stuff will be around for any January clearance sales.
• Nike knew the powder-blues would be donned, because they created related merchandise for Ole Miss sideline personnel. Why not flex some of that famous promotional Swoosh muscle and populate Nike retailers throughout Mississippi and Memphis (not to mention related digital outlets) with a powder-blue campaign? Mississippi might be 53rd out of 50 in every category, but college football may as well be the official state religion, Ole Miss oversees the public medical, dental, and law schools in the state (which produce a wealthy alumni base), and Ole Miss is the only Nike-backed major school in the state.
• Ultimately, Ole Miss knew it would use the powder blue helmets. Regardless of where responsibilities for licensed merchandise fall within the agreements between the Ole Miss athletic department and TeleSouth Communications, its marketing/media rights-holder, the ball got dropped. A special-gear game should have been recognized as a great opportunity to sell more gear, particularly on the website of your official retail shop, not to mention other major brick-and-mortar and/or online retail partners (particularly local ones). So even if the retailers and/or Nike don’t make the first move, Ole Miss Athletics and/or Ole Miss Sports Properties needed to make some sort of move to stock plenty of the items.
When I contacted College Corner Store by phone (the reason for which will be the topic of my next column), I was told that the powder-blue items had been hot sellers.
So if a massive, larger-than-anticipated consumer onslaught gobbled up all the powder-blue merchandise (provided it was stocked in relatively large quantities), then so be it, but I doubt that’s what happened.
Regardless, though, I trust that those involved with the Ole Miss powder-blue phenomenon and any other teams planning similar stunts have learned an important lesson: be ready with a related merchandise blitz when alternate uniform elements are used.
If not, you could be leaving enough green on the table to make you (powder) blue.