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‘H-Zone’ comes better late than never

April 22, 2014 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — There has been a shortage of good news around the University of Hawaii athletic department these past few weeks, with the men’s volleyball team falling short of a league playoff berth and the baseball and softball teams struggling through conference slumps.

This weekend will be relatively quiet with both the baseball and softball teams on the road, although the football team’s “Spring Fling” will generate some excitement on Saturday.

The biggest news (or at least the most positive) last week may have come off the field, with the announcement of UH’s new merchandising operation called “H-Zone.”

The operation, which features a new retail store and Web site, will launch at 10 a.m. July 1 — which is not a minute too soon, and really about a decade overdue. But better late than never, and in this case, maybe just in the nick of time as UH athletics is at a critical financial crossroad.

The H-Zone retail store at Ward Centre will occupy 1,465 square feet of space to display and sell a wide array of men’s, women’s and youth apparel as well as assorted spirit items for each team. The store will also host radio shows, autograph sessions, coaches’ presentations, special events, etc.

H-ZoneOnline.com, a new UH Athletics merchandise Web site, will also be launched at 10 a.m. July 1.

“We’re thrilled about this new merchandising venture, which will allow us to raise additional revenue to support our men’s and women’s programs,” Hawaii athletic director Ben Jay said in a school statement. “All proceeds will benefit the UH Athletics department and its continuing mission to field competitive teams and graduate our student-athletes.”

The biggest change and impact will come from Jay’s second sentence: “All proceeds will benefit the UH Athletics department …”

This is the part that is long overdue. The school’s current retail store, Rainbowtique, has been a great resource and done a good job in selling UH athletics merchandise — T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, jerseys, etc. — for 16 years. The problem is: None of that revenue went directly toward the athletic department, which has struggled mightily to sustain itself over that period.

It was one of those grossly unfair and nonsensical arrangements that plagued the department for years. The most glaring example came in November/December 2007, when the football team was undefeated and Warriors merchandise was flying off the shelf. It helped UH’s Upper Campus, outside retailers and the local economy in general, but not the athletic department cash register.

In fact, when UH changed its athletics logo and uniform scheme way back in July 2000, it was with the hope that the move would boost merchandise sales. But even if it did, the extra money — ironically — did not go towards athletics.

But now, 16 years after Rainbowtique opened its doors and 14 years after the jagged “H” replaced the rainbow, the athletic department can finally reap the rewards of the sales driven by its own teams.

The timing, though late, is actually pretty good as the “retro” rainbow has ironically made its way back into merchandise and the football uniform. So “H-Zone” can take advantage of both logos.

In addition to the H-Zone store and Web site, UH will expand its merchandising operations in the Stan Sheriff Center and Les Murakami Stadium by adding retail locations on the concourse, as well as other UH facilities and sporting events.

The athletic department will also promote its merchandising program through traditional media outlets (TV, radio and print) as well as its regular Web site (HawaiiAthletics.com), weekly newsletter (H-Mail) and social media pages (facebook, twitter, Instagram and YouTube). Advertising and promotional slogans, including “Get Your Green On” and “Get In What We’re In” will encourage fans to purchase items from the new line of UH merchandise to wear during the 2014-15 sports seasons.

In order to maximize net revenue from merchandising operations, UH athletics also has entered into corporate partnerships with local companies such as the Howard Hughes Corporation, Hilo Hattie, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, Under Armour, Peterson Sign Company, UPS and Island Flooring.

This type of partnership with local businesses and the community is necessary, as we have clearly seen that UH cannot rely on ticket revenue alone to pay the bills.

Merchandising has big potential and has been a big source of revenue for other schools

such as Oregon, which has unique lines of apparel. UH also can offer unique lines of merchandise that can appeal to not just alumni and fans but also tourists and hobbyists.

In these times when good news has been hard to find on the scoreboard and league standings, H-Zone provides hope that much-needed revenue can still be earned even when the teams are not in action or filling the stadiums and arena.

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