The hottest trend in sports apparel is Bearkat orange.

Vast expansion of sales through regional retailers such as Academy Sports, Walmart, Walgreens, Barefoot and Target have helped Sam Houston’s licensing revenues to more than double since 2009-10.

"The Bearkats’ presence in area retailers now is as strong as the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M," SHSU director of athletics Bobby Williams said. "The new Academy store in Huntsville opened in September with 40 percent of their athletic apparel Bearkat merchandise."

It’s no accident that many more people on campus, at the mall or on the street are wearing Bearkat gear.

Success on the field of play with consecutive Commissioner’s Cup championships, national ESPN television exposure and NCAA playoff appearances has played a part. But a concerted effort to increase SHSU licensed apparel and merchandize sales has resulted in more than 170 licensed vendors for Bearkat gear.

"The athletic department has been very systematic in our approach to increasing income from licensing," SHSU associate athletic director for external operations David Paitson said. Paitson serves as the point person for the university's licensing program. "Hard work and a cooperative effort behind the scenes has been just as important as winning championships."

The licensing program’s success has been a four-year effort. A partnership with Strategic Marketing Affiliates (SMA) was one of the first steps.

"SMA is a more licensee and fan friendly agency," Paitson said. "They have worked with the university to improve quality and control. There is value in the Sam Houston brand. We’ve been more aggressive about enforcing our licensing policies and standards."

Consulting with key campus decision makers, the university reviewed brand guides, updated trademarks and logo sheets and met with local vendors and campus buyers to educate them on onprocess.

"There are regular reviews of retail outlets to ensure folks are staying compliant," Paitson said. "Up next is the rollout of a ‘look for the label’ campaign to educate consumers as well."

Headquartered in Indianapolis, SMA handles licensing for 340 clients nationwide, including over 45 clients based in Texas.

"As a client-centered company, we take great pride our relationship with the Bearkats," Bob Bernard, SMA president & CEO, said. "With both its continuing enrollment growth and athletic success, Sam Houston is a significant player in the region. We’ve worked together with a forward-thinking attitude to keep our approach fresh, energetic and effective."

Quality control is one of the most important aspects of the Bearkat licensing program.

Corporate partnership and licensing coordinator Kimberly Spino manages the day-to-day review of artwork for apparel and merchandise, seeking to ensure that designs are consistent with the goals and image of the university. Last year, Kimberly approved more than 1,800 pieces of art. The average SMA client approves less than 250 pieces of per year.

SMA has introduced labels and hang tags to help protect client institutions. All licensed products feature that the marks of SMA clients must contain a hangtag or sticker with the SMA OLP label and information identifying the manufacturer and their contact information.

Two years ago, SHSU athletics and SMA began meeting with campus buyers and local vendors to educate them on the specifics of the licensing program.

"Sam Houston is a prime example of a campus and community taking an ‘education first’ approach with their licensing program," Kasey Moore, SMA university services representative, said. "They have done an exemplary job in educating the campus, the licensees and the community about how the program benefits everyone involved.

"The university views the licensing program as a partnership. This outlook has created a sense of community for all involved. This approach has been extremely successful with significant increases in product placement in the local retail marketplace."

In January 2013, a special "Trunk Show" at the Loman Student Center introduced local licensees to campus buyers.

"This program has become a model that had successfully been duplicated by other SMA clients around the country," Bernard said. "Sam Houston’s commitment to showcasing and carrying its brand to the fan base has brought significant exposure to the university."

A new "Trunk Show" is scheduled for January.

SHSU orange apparel is available on the web as well through Sam Houston’s official online store, BearkatGear.com, with links on gobearkats.com, the athletic web site.

Sam Houston’s sports management graduate program was solicited to help with the licensing effort. Students took part in several key projects including trademark and licensing analysis. SMA reviewed the data and several of their suggestions were implemented.

"Having these experiences is critical to the learning process for our sports management graduate students," Dr. Ryan K. Zapalac, acting chair and associate professor of kinesiology, said. "It provides them with the opportunity to apply the concepts we discuss in class to actual real-world scenarios. As a result, we have students that exit our program ready to enter the industry with the knowledge and skills to be successful."

This year, the sports management graduate program will conduct a similar market review, but extend the review to all marks on SHSU campuses including signage and printed materials.

Sam Houston’s "Orange Out 2014" promotion for the football home opener August 30 demonstrates the growing popularity of wearing Bearkat gear.

"Created in partnership with Barefoot Athletics, Barnes and Noble and BearkatGear.com, Orange Out turned Bowers Stadium into a virtual sea of orange with more than 9,000 fans filling the seats," Paitson said.

Bearkat fans will have the opportunity to show off their orange pride Saturday Nov. 1 at the 89th "Battle of the Piney Woods" at NRG Stadium in Houston. More than 26,000 fans have filled the stadium’s lower bowl the past four years.

One thing is for certain. Thanks to the licensing program, those fans won’t have any problems finding Sam Houston gear to wear to the game.