It's not hard for Kim Thomas to remember the days when she would call licensees begging them to make Boise State Broncos gear. As manager of the school bookstore she wanted more products on the shelves, but she knew why they were all saying no.
They didn't want to pay the up-front licensee fee in exchange for the rights to use the marks of a Western Athletic Conference school located in Idaho with a measly alumni base that wouldn't even fill half of Michigan Stadium.
"Two years ago, I couldn't get the people at Nike to speak to me," Thomas said. "Now, we're one of their best sellers. They put us on a tier with some of the Pac-10 schools."
Boise State's success in the football world has paid big dividends in licensing royalties. The Broncos had the biggest increase in sales this year as royalties grew 84 percent and sales of clothing through the team's official Web site rose 321 percent compared to the 2003 football season.
Earlier this month, Boise State -- with only 52,000 alumni -- cracked the top 50 in royalties among schools that are represented by the Collegiate Licensing Company, surpassing the likes of Northwestern, Boston College and Georgetown.
Part of their success on the racks is due to winning. Over the past four seasons, the Broncos are only second to Oklahoma in total wins. Another factor is the exposure. Since 2001, they've been featured 14 times on ESPN's networks. (They even agreed to play San Jose State at 9 a.m. local time this past season to guarantee the national spotlight.)
And finally, a cool logo never hurts.
"We are the Gonzaga of college football," said Boise State associate athletic director Curt Apsey. "It's amazing what happened to our name and our logo."
In 1999, Gonzaga made the Elite Eight in the men's NCAA basketball tournament, but earned less than $25,000 in licensing revenue. Three years later, after three straight Sweet 16 appearances, the small school in Spokane, Wash. -- also bearing a redesigned logo -- was raking in more than $100,000 in royalties.
Since Boise State's new logo was unveiled in April 2001, annual clothing sales have increased by 240 percent to $1.4 million. National retailer Champs now has Boise State gear in hundreds of its stores.
"They were in six of our stores last year and now they're in 350 of them," said Rob Brodersen, vice president of marketing for Champs, which carries Broncos T-shirts, fleeces and replica jerseys.
Unlike other schools, which limit designers of new logos in order to conform to the school's tradition, logo designer Joe Bosack said he was free to do almost anything when he sat down to design the new look four years ago.
"They didn't want me to tweak the color palette, because their blue turf is like their version of the Green Monster," Bosack said. "But since their old logo was less than effective, we were basically starting from zero."
Thomas said her staff has taken orders for Boise State gear from nearly every state, with one of the most important orders coming from Hollywood. An executive with the movie Miss Congeniality II starring Sandra Bullock recently ordered some Broncos gear since one of the characters in the movie -- which debuts next month -- is a Boise State graduate.
Said Thomas: "That could get even more people calling."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.