By Michelle Prather
Could face-painted, pennant-swingin' college football buffs out-fan even those newsworthy Star Wars devotees who camped out in line this summer? The thought's so disturbing, we won't contemplate it any further. The fact that football-helmet-shaped umbrellas emblazoned with team logos even exist is evidence enough that, for true enthusiasts, nothing is too extreme.
Like Los Alamitos, California, umbrella-maker Sportsbrella LLC (http://www.sportsbrella.com), large and small companies nationwide are snatching up collegiate licenses and making serious bucks off loyal college football followers, collectors and insiders. Some eclectic offerings in this arena: Manufacturer Sportscast hawks life-sized football lamps at the FANSonly Marketplace (http://www.fansonly.com/marketplace). Seattle Traders offers the Gridiron Tailgate Barbecue Grill (http://www.seattletraders.com/tailgating.htm)--your traditional barbecue apparatus, but with a huge football helmet as its lid! Ticket agencies earn top dollar off prime seats to each season's games, and online College Fantasy Football Leagues rake in revenues for savvy netpreneurs.
Capitalizing on the mania are high school buddies Bob McNeil and Tracy Talley, 37 and 36, respectively. The avid collectors were dissatisfied with college football memorabilia offerings. So in 1997, the Oklahoma City dwellers started T-Mac Sports, a company that produces 150 different miniature college football helmets, complete with metal face mask and working chin strap. The mini-helmets, which retail for $30, are sold to 400 outlets nationwide, including bookstores, athletic departments and alumni groups. Aside from the potential of creating helmets for all 327 Division I and II schools, these shelf-toppers have another draw. Says McNeil: "They've been [called] the Beanie Babies for guys."
Since college football is hardly a dying trend, and consumers (read: fanatics) will buy almost anything, your success is limited only by your originality.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.