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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Guest Opinion: The Aggieopoly

It’s that time of year. You’re scrambling on gift ideas for your family before finals hit. You’ve settled on buying some nice UC Davis mugs, T-shirts and sweatshirts for the parents and cousins.

Soon, you’ll be getting hosed by one of the best — and worst — strategies this university has cooked up.

Combine terrible selection, high price and a cumbersome process together and you’ve got the prime UC Davis shopping experience. It’s awful and nowhere close to the typical Division I merchandising operation.

You may remember that the role of spirit wear and merchandise is meant to promote the university. Students act as walking billboards every time they step outside the confines of Davis proper.

But those billboards cost anywhere from $20 to $60. And best of luck locating a decent discount or sale for those items. They’re sold by one of the most universally hated institutions on campus (second only to TAPS): the bookstore.

Yes, UC Davis’ bookstore — which also operates a few other outlets on and off-campus — is the guard between you, your money and the latest blue-and-gold gear.

But they also act as a producer, too, under the “Aggie Wear” label. Aggie Wear produces such hits as the signature UCD block letter sweatshirts, along with a variety of T-shirts.

Most schools license their trademark to a variety of companies. Some, like Nike and Under Armour, specialize in high-end gear. Others, like Jansport, Russell or Gear for Sports, make mid-range to low-end merchandise.

Think of UC Davis’ Aggie Wear label as a one-size-fits-all competitor to Nike’s high-end products, while also mass-producing mid-priced T-shirts and other clothing to compete with Gear and Russell. Simultaneously, the markup for Aggie Wear is just as high as the standard markup for companies like Nike or Jansport.

But the lower cost of production and lack of a middle man (Nike, Jansport et al.) equates to a higher profit margin for UC Davis.

But the kicker to UC Davis’ merchandising scheme comes at the point-of-sale. If you want to buy a UC Davis T-shirt, you’re heading to one of three places — the UC Davis bookstore, the bookstore’s website or Amazon’s UC Davis outlet.

All three are, at some level, controlled by the university and only one offers a full selection: the brick-and-mortar bookstore.

That’s what Andrew Carnegie would call vertical integration, or controlling as much of the process from production to sale as possible. So every time you walk in to the bookstore, you’re buying into UC Davis’ Aggieopoly.

The bigger problem for our fine university is that UC Davis has no image among consumers. And no image is almost as bad as having a bad image.

Since UC Davis predominantly admits students from across California, especially the Bay Area, Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley, you would think there would be plenty of UC Davis promotion (e.g., clothing) on sale for people to buy in those areas.

Think again.

While on a trip to the Bay Area, I stopped at an outlet mall in Livermore and found myself in a Lids store. I decided to take a gander at the college sports section to see which colleges and teams were featured. The names: Stanford, Cal, USC, Fresno State, Cal State Fullerton, and — wait for it — University of the Pacific.

As embarrassing as UC Davis’ lack of inclusion, it’s a problem that is easily fixable.

First, loosen up the approach to licenses.

Give high and low-end merchandisers greater access to UC Davis marks and copyrights. Most people know that greater competition leads to cheaper products for consumers. And, while you’re at it, don’t undercut those licensees (who pay money to use your trademarks) by making your own cheaper clothing.

If I were to buy a week’s worth of UC Davis gear (comprised of seven T-shirts, two sweatshirts and a hat) I’d be spending $250. If I were to buy the same items in Fresno State gear, I’d only spend $170.

Second, get UC Davis gear on shelves year-round.

I’m from Fresno, where the Fresno State Bulldogs are on the same level as a professional team in any big city. This is perpetuated when you can buy Bulldogs gear at Walmart, Target, Costco, Sports Authority and even convenience stores.

This is the same approach UC Davis needs to take with retailers in Sacramento, the Bay Area and the rest of the Central Valley. Get our name out there.

Let’s end the Aggieopoly and get UC Davis students buying better and cheaper merchandise to support Aggie Pride.


ALEX TAVLIAN is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at aetavlian@ucdavis.edu.




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