Fans pull out wallets ahead of big game

Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Stores that cater to Gator fans giddy about the prospects of a national championship say business has been good, but would be better with a Gator victory.

Fans — including many who are going to Monday night's game in Glendale, Ariz. — have been stocking up on T-shirts, hats, other clothes and various knickknacks to show their spirit.

Gators Plus, across from the University of Florida, has sold hundreds of Bowl Championship Series T-shirts, according to owner Bill Olander.

Fans heading to the game at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl have been buying flags, car tags and magnetic stickers, said Sandy Canevari, store manager of Gator Mania at The Oaks Mall.

Dwight Johnson bought his son, UF sophomore Ryan Johnson, a basketball T-shirt Thursday at the Florida Book Store.

"He's got all the football gear he needs," the dad said.

Ryan was an hour away from flying to Phoenix after getting the ultimate Gator Christmas presents: a game ticket and airline ticket.

"So he gets to go and Dad stays home," Dwight said.

Gator Shop owner Joi Fincher said between the SEC championship, Christmas and now the BCS game, business has doubled or tripled, but will be nothing compared to sales if UF wins.

Fans and merchants do not use the word "if," by the way.

"It's not if we win, it's when we win," Canevari said.

When — or if — that happens, the stores will be ready. Some will receive clothing declaring the Gators national champions before the game is over, ready to sell if UF wins.

If UF loses, the clothing must be destroyed under college licensing laws.

Olander will have hats early, but said his shirts are not made until the game is over and the Gators win.

"As soon as the fat lady sings, they'll start the printing or the embroidery work. We will pick it up on Monday night and have it here that evening. We will be back at the store and open after the game."

Olander said clothing hits the stores first, followed later in the week by glassware, decals, bumper stickers, license plates, pennants, banners and posters.

A win would quadruple January sales, Olander said, drawing from his experience with the 1996 football championship.

"The first 10 to 12 days was pandemonium in here."

Canevari said Gator Mania will have shirts declaring the Gators national champions today to sell Tuesday.

The Official Gator Sports Shop would sell championship hats at its stand in the O'Connell Center immediately after the game.

In the event of a loss, Gator Mania takes a loss on six to eight cases of shirts, which it ships back to the manufacturer to be destroyed, Canevari said.

Olander said Gators Plus would just be out shipping costs for returning merchandise to the manufacturer.

The Gator Shop would lose costs of 2,000 shirts, Fincher said. "We don't even think about that because we're going to win. It's going to be insane."

Johnson said his employer, Fightin' Gators magazine, would stand to benefit from a win with new advertisers that have national championship lines of products.

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark or (352) 374-5094.

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