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New Fighting Sioux merchandise for sale three months after nickname selection

UND Fighting Sioux jersey. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS – There were two racks laden with Fighting Sioux clothing and trinkets Tuesday inside a gift shop at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, but that doesn't mean the University of North Dakota will be using its old nickname again.

The merchandise is part of the Dakotah Legacy Collection, which features merchandise bearing the school's old Fighting Sioux logos that have been retired and replaced with the Fighting Hawks nickname, which was announced in November.

UND must use the Fighting Sioux logo to retain the trademark that gives it the exclusive legal right to use it.

Interim President Ed Schafer, who took office mid-January, said plans for the collection were in place before he started working at the university, adding he thinks the release and marketing for the gear could have been more clear.

"There wasn't any marketing campaign, just social media, and a lot of people on social media said 'Oh, we're getting the Fighting Sioux back,'" he said.

According to data provided by UND spokesman Peter Johnson, the university sold the license to produce more than 9,000 pieces of merchandise. That includes 1,005 sweatshirts, 3,015 hats, 300 lanyards and more.

Schafer said this merchandise, which hit the shelves last week at the Ralph Engelstad Arena Sioux Shop, Scheels sporting goods store and the campus bookstore, is only the first round of production. A second round is slated for release this summer, though that doesn't mean more licenses will be issued.

"We're not expanding the numbers of the commitment, we're just fulfilling what we've agreed to do," he said.

The Sioux Shop gift has a Facebook page with published posts advertising the new merchandise. The first post alone was shared more than 100 times with many commenting they were excited to buy.

Sioux Shop manager Jason Carlson and Scheels manager Michael Burtness declined to comment on the agreement.

Defining 'usage'

Johnson said he didn't know why the merchandise was released three months after the selection of the new Fighting Hawks name.

"You have to make commercial use of the mark, so we had to do something," he said.

There are two marks in this release of the collection. One is the commonly-seen Fighting Sioux face that was created by artist Bennett Brien. The school used that logo from 1999 until its official retirement in December 2012.

The other mark is a geometric logo adopted by the university in 1976 for use alongside other versions of the Native American head image the school used at the time, including a variation of the Blackhawks logo.

UND must use the Fighting Sioux marks to keep its trademarks, but Schafer said "usage" isn't defined by the law, and so his office is now working on a definition UND can stand by.

With the assistance of legal council, Schafer's office will create a definition that stipulates how much, how often and where the university will use the marks.

"I don't see it as some kind of long process because usage isn't defined," Schafer said. "We can define it any way we want, we just have to make sure we have a reasonable chance at legal defense."

Some have been been vocal on social media about wanting the controversial Fighting Sioux logo trademark handed over to the state's Sioux tribes, but Schafer said retaining the trademark and controlling which logos are in circulation is an important part of the transition away from the Fighting Sioux name.

"We have to control it so we can make a transition because there's no way, if you had all of this merchandise and things out there with the Fighting Sioux name on it all over the place, why would somebody move on to the new thing?"

Decline in sales

In early February, a UND committee recommended the selection of New York-based design firm SME Inc. to create a logo to accompany the Fighting Hawks nickname. Schafer said an agreement with the company should be finalized in the coming days.

"What you hope is if we build value into the new, and we build value by graduating really good students, getting them good jobs in the community and having sports teams that win, people won't go to the old anymore. They'll go to the new," he said. "But we won't have a new right now."

Royalties the university earns for selling the license to use its marks, including the UND flame image and interlocking "ND" logo, are down this year. Johnson provided data in an email that showed royalties decreased from $768,032 in fiscal year 2011 to $359,370 in fiscal year 2015.

Johnson said part of that profit goes to the licensing agency UND works with on a sliding scale that depends on profits.

"We're not in business to sell T-shirts, but the dollars that spin off go to affect the operations of the university, and they're way down, and rightfully so. We're not selling anything," Schafer said. "We don't have a mark out there we're using. It will take some time to build that up because you have to add value to it, and that doesn't happen overnight."

Dakotah Sioux Collection merchandise

Long-sleeve shirt--1,005 each for men's and women's

Lanyards, pennants, kid's hockey stick, wood sign--300 of each

Baseball caps--1,005 of each of the three models

Sweatshirts--1,005 total

Adult sweatshirt, youth T-shirt, youth sweatshirt -- 1,005 total

Kids T-shirt, kids sweatshirt -- 1,005 total

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