In western South Carolina, there are a lot of reasons this football season to be proud. After claiming their 15th ACC Title and winning their second ACC Championship Game, the Clemson Tigers concluded their regular season with a perfect 13-0 record, including three wins against top 10 teams. As the undisputed top-ranked team on the College Football Playoff Rankings, the Tigers will face Oklahoma in their first step toward the National Championship in this year’s Bowl Championship Series December 31 at the Orange Bowl.
For this relatively small and tight-knit football community, the Tigers’ success this year is heartfelt and personal. Clemson hasn’t had a perfect season since 1981, when the school won the Associated Press National Championship. This sense of closeness was felt when the team invited over 30,000 Tigers fans to their stadium, known as Death Valley, to eat pizza and watch ESPN’s College Football Playoff Selection Show together – something head coach Dabo Swinney pointed out that BCS challengers Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State would not be doing.
This sense that something amazing is happening this year extends to the college merchandise stores throughout the state, which are seeing Clemson merchandise outsell University of South Carolina merchandise for the first time in recent memory.
While no one expects the Tigers’ domination of the Gamecocks to be permanent, it is definitely a change of pace for both South Carolina college football fans and for South Carolina sports memorabilia sellers. Swinney won the Home Depot Coach of the Year, tight end Hunter Henry won the John Mackey Award, and quarterback Deshaun Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Tigers are poised to claim their second national championship, extend their record winning streak, and prepare to repeat the process next year. In South Carolina, orange is definitely in fashion this season.
A Tale of Two Schools
When comparing Clemson with the University of South Carolina, a few points become obvious. Both schools are public universities, but USC is the larger of the two with the larger athletic program. Though USC has never won a national championship and Clemson currently leads 67-42-4 in the schools’ rivalries – commonly called the Palmetto Bowl – USC has the larger and more devout fan base.
More poignantly, however, is the geographical difference. USC is based in Columbia, the state’s capital. While Columbia is located in the center of the state, it is closer to the state’s coastal population centers than Clemson, which is in the northwestern corner of the state. For someone traveling from Charleston, for example, it is easier to see a USC game than a Clemson game.
As illustrated in the above graphic, this may help to explain the distribution pattern of team merchandise throughout the state. While USC dominates the number of zip codes in the state where its merchandise is the top seller, these zip codes are mostly clustered on the coast and the center of the state. Clemson, which comes in second, is more distributed but does have a healthy concentration in the Greenville metropolitan area.
Despite the heavy support for Clemson and USC in state, fan affinity for college teams varies widely in South Carolina, as it does in most other regions. The University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina, The Ohio State University, and the University of Alabama all have ranked high in sports merchandising in the state.
Who Is Buying Clemson Merchandise?
When looking at who is most likely to buy pro sports merchandise, typically, the average buyer is someone with a reasonable amount of disposable income. This would include people with affluence and those who are working professionals.
However, comparing people most likely to buy college merchandise with the typical pro sports merchandise buyer, the picture could not be more different. Due to the fact that licensing requirements for the NCAA are less stringent than for the major sports leagues, more manufacturers and retailers are involved in the selling of college merchandise. This creates a situation in which a piece of college merchandise will be cheaper than its pro sports counterpart.
Due to this, the average buyer of college merchandise is the average American. The graphic above supports this claim. For example, 29009 – the zip code that buys the largest amount of Clemson Tigers merchandise per capita – is the area surrounding Bethune, SC. Bethune is a small town of 340 residents in the state’s capital district. With a median household income in the zip code of $31,100 (the state’s median income is $44,800), Bethune is far away in affluence from the Columbia area’s richest zip code, 29036. A suburban district, the zip code bears 48 business addresses compared with 1,123 residential addresses.
The zip code with the second-highest rate of Clemson merchandise sold is 29678, which includes parts of Seneca, SC. The home of current U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, the city has a population of 8,246 with a median household income of $44,487. 15.6 percent of the city’s populace – including 23 percent of children under the age of 18 – is under the federal poverty line in the area. The third-largest buying zip code, 29369, is Moore, SC, a suburban area with a median household income of $63,911. While 29369 is the state’s 20th-most affluent zip code, the area is less wealthy and more suburban upper middle class, with a healthy mix of both blue-collar and white-collar workers.
South Carolina is a relatively small state, and when events like Clemson’s Cinderella season happen, it feels even smaller. Throughout the state, everyday college football fans are putting down their USC crimson and putting on Clemson orange in support of their favorite underdog team. Clemson’s fanbase is seen as family in Death Valley – the devoted few that cheer on one of college football’s most unique and successful teams.
“Let me just tell you, nobody does it like Clemson, I promise you,” Head Coach Swinney told the 30,000 gathered fans at the pizza party at Death Valley. “… If you do the common things in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world. This football team, all of you, Clemson? Uncommon.”
For those who want to get their orange on for the Orange Bowl, Fanatics carries a full line of Clemson fan attire.
We looked at Fanatics NCAA merchandise sales data for zip codes within South Carolina, and using the latest U.S. Census population numbers, we determined the number of units shipped to each zip code per 100 residents. We filtered this by looking only at zip codes that had at least 1,000 residents in the 2010 Census.