By Karl Henkel
Youngstown State could get walloped Friday night against 17th-ranked Michigan State.
But the Penguins still will win financially.
That’s because YSU, starting the season with a Big Ten opponent again this year, stands to make $600,000 for playing the Spartans, last year’s co-Big Ten champions.
But what if YSU pulls the upset and becomes only the third Football Championship Series team since 1978 to defeat a Football Bowl Subdivision-ranked opponent?
The payoff could be overwhelmingly astronomical in extra merchandise sales.
Sales normally remain steady except during decades of cellar-dwelling or immediately following epic victories. The latter hasn’t happened in more than a decade.
“The last time was back in the 1990s during the championship years,” said Eva Gucwa, merchandise coordinator at the YSU Bookstore. “But we always anticipate that the beginning of the school year and beginning of football season, we’ll always see an increase.”
In the case of an East Lansing surprise, how big an increase should the school expect?
Sales could increase as much as 40 percent, or more than $100,000, based on YSU’s $300,000-plus annual bookstore merchandise sales.
The 40-percent increase is based on figures from one of the only two games in which a FCS team defeated a ranked FBS opponent.
In 2007, I-AA powerhouse Appalachian State waltzed into Michigan Stadium and knocked off the then-fifth ranked Wolverines, pulling off the most stunning cross-division victory of all time.
The ensuing days and weeks were absolute chaos for the folks at ASU’s bookstore, who struggled to keep up with orders for commemorative memorabilia, primarily T-shirts.
“The real barrage of calls lasted a couple of weeks and continued for most of that year,” said Michael Coston, director of the Appalachian State bookstore. “Our sales more than doubled what a normal day was. People were calling and wondering if we could sell a dozen T-shirts.”
Appalachian State, which normally sells about $2 million in merchandise annually, saw sales increase 40 percent during the final four months of 2007 — representing more than a quarter-million dollar bonus on top of the $400,000 guarantee — thanks to the school’s most memorable victory.
ASU’s third consecutive national title that year also helped sales.
Could lightning strike again? Last season, James Madison of the Colonial Athletic Association defeated No. 13 Virginia Tech.
A YSU victory could attract a whole new following of Michigan fans, who would like nothing more than to take a return shot at their in-state rivals, which made their own T-shirts four years ago that read: “At least we didn’t lose to Appalachian State.”
But for YSU to maximize its return, it needs to develop a product — whether just a template or an actual shirt — within a week or two.
“That memory be will be short-lived when they lose a game,” said Michael Pontikos, advertising and marketing professor at YSU. “But I think people will buy it anyway just to say they were a part of it.”
Though few are expecting a victory, Gucwa said YSU will be ready if the Penguins pull off the upset.
“It’d be terrific if it happens,” Gucwa said. “And yes, we will be ready if it does.”