If you spend long enough within the Saint Louis University Billiken Athletics extended community, a prevailing theme and talking point has been “there are simply not enough ways for die-hard fans to support the program/department.”
You walk into a sporting goods store, and merchandise with the Billiken emblazoned on it is few and far between. Fanatics (a prominent online marketplace of branded team apparel ranging from the NCAA to the NFL and beyond) is rife with generic ‘insert team name here’ blue shirts and sweaters that lack an authentic emotional tie to the school and program. The team brand is so ignored by Fanatics that the icon attached to Saint Louis on its “College” landing page is an old letter mark from a previous era of Billiken athletics.
But now, Saint Louis University athletics is actively foraying into more creative apparel options, starting with a partnership with Homefield Apparel.
On June 7th, the Billiken Athletics Twitter account tweeted a graphic announcing and promoting the new partnership with just a simple “It’s Happening!”. Homefield Apparel is well known for its stylish and creative designs, primarily focusing on “retro” or “vintage” uses of the program’s logos and designs. The Billikens will be joining a list of over 100 other schools to have licensing agreements with the brand.
The deal came together when SLU Athletics’ in-house marketing team reached out to Homefield to negotiate an opportunity after seeing an increased desire for the partnership on social media. Every time Homefield announced a new partnership with a school, Billiken fans were sure to be in the comments pleading for the program and brand to come together.
The partnership came together quickly, with initial contact coming in April 2021 but was ultimately found to be one both parties were excited to work on. The initial rollout will start sometime this fall, with multiple pieces comprising the initial collection. While designs are still being completed, the merchandise will heavily feature Billiken logos of old.
In addition to the Homefield partnership, Saint Louis University Athletics will soon be announcing another licensing deal with “19Nine”, an apparel company who also specializes in vintage designs, but additionally adds a unique retro shorts options to their repertoire. SLU is expected to have a full offering of designs from 19Nine this fall as well, targeting a date before Basketball season as to when the products will become available
The two new partnerships will provide SLU supporters, students, and alumni significantly more options to support the program and to do so by purchasing designs some may feel is more connected to their time at SLU.
For SLU, the partnerships serve as an important litmus test for the strength of the brand and the desire from Billiken Alumni and Fans for more creative fan gear. Should Billiken faithful show support for the partnership, the marketing team would be more inclined to go further and further into the licensing game. For example, if the “first wave” of Homefield apparel sells well, there are already plans for an expanding clothing catalog to come from the partnership.
Ultimately, it seems Billiken fan activism has led to the “risk” on the part of the program (I put that lightly) and support in the way of sales…when the time comes… it will lead to more of this type of thing. In essence the best way to support the department this fall, may be by buying cool new Billiken’s gear.
In addition to the vintage design deals…and in a similar vein… I have been told that SLU Athletics will introduce authentic basketball jerseys for purchase this fall. The jerseys will come in two colors, white and blue, and will be essentially identical to the uniforms that the Men’s basketball team will wear when they take the court for the 2021-22 season.
The jerseys’ design is very similar to what we saw the team wear during the 2020-21 but will have “subtle changes” to account for mass production. Done in tandem with the basketball program’s designs and taking into account all creative decisions made about the jerseys the players will actually wear, Billiken fans will have a near identical replica in look and feel.
The plan is the have the number for every jersey sold to be 18, reflecting the schools founding in 1818. There will also be a vacant nameplate above the number. It has been suggested that it may be possible for a name to be put into that placeholder spot by third-party providers.
Much like the Homefield partnership, the jersey sales will help gauge an understanding of the current desire for merchandise. Billiken jerseys, especially of the quality of which these suggest being, have been a glaringly absent staple in fan attire available for Billiken supporters; a strong showing of these could lead to more creative offerings that are not tied to what the team is wearing currently.
At some point in the recent past, the marketing team at SLU Athletics were given the green light to pursue more creative and fan-oriented offerings and they have taken that directive and ran with it. Billiken fans have been yammering for opportunities to support the program through apparel for years. They will have the chance headed into this upcoming school year and can ultimately help support their future. The department listened, and they are hoping their risk pays off.