College fight songs ring up ringtone profits

Alabama football fans can buy pens, ties, video games, phones and socks that play the Crimson Tide's fight song, and a New York company is humming the tune all the way to the bank.

In an unusual mix of athletics and consumer electronics, college sports fans are helping boost the bottom line for a Manhattan-based music publisher that's selling rights to fight songs for use in an array of new products.

Analysts say the boom is part of a major trend in the music industry, where publishing companies are reaping the benefits of the digital music that's become the soundtrack to life thanks to microprocessors and streaming sound.

"Recorded music is becoming a ubiquitous feature. I think we have not even begun to witness the top of this yet," said Aram Sinnreich of Radar Research, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm.

Carlin America purchased the rights to the fight songs of Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana State and about 95 other universities when it acquired another publishing company in 1999.

Now it's making about $100,000 annually selling rights to fight songs played by all sorts of gadgets for fans. While schools make money licensing their names and slogans for products like T-shirts, they generally don't profit from their own fight songs.

Cellphone ring tones and video games are huge, said Bob Golden, vice president of marketing at Carlin America. But the shelves of a shop catering to Alabama fans show just how far the business can go.

Located on a street named for the late coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Alabama Bookstore sells all sorts of gizmos embedded with chips that play Yea, Alabama at the push of a button.

"We've had bottle openers that play it, stuffed elephants, door chimes, house phones, and key chains," said manager Hal Thurmond.

The list goes on: "We've had door bells, car horns, small footballs you might give a kid, watches, door mats and a golf club head cover. We've got a baby mobile with little elephants that's supposed to boost your child's school spirit. It's $39.95."

A few pennies of the price of each licensed product go to Carlin America.

"This is quite a big business all of a sudden, and no one had any idea," said Golden.

Alabama's song is a top seller, he said, along with the University of Florida's song, The Orange and the Blue. Gator fans can buy an orange-clad Santa Claus that plays the Florida fight song from a store in Gainesville, Fla.

Temple University's Fight Temple Fight does well, too, Golden said. Fans can download the tune for their cellphone for $2.49 from websites.

For years, fans heard the fight song of their favorite school mainly at football or basketball games. There were occasional recordings but not much more, and schools that have entire departments overseeing licensing agreements paid little or no attention to music.

That void is filled by publishing companies, which own rights to the fight songs and other tunes and make money by licensing them for commercial uses including products, thanks to new consumer technologies like computer chips.

Sinnreich said firm numbers are hard to come by, but business-to-business music licensing has become a vital, multibillion-dollar segment of the music industry.

"This period is a windfall for publishers because of all the new ways to use music," said the analyst, who also teaches at New York University.

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