Colonel Reb now in retirement

OXFORD — Colonel Reb, the University of Mississippi’s iconic former mascot who conjures up — for many — images of the plantation-era of the South of the past, is soon to be a remnant of the past himself.

The Colonel Reb image was officially — and legally — retired Wednesday.

Tuesday was is the last official day the Colonel Reb image can be licensed. The College Licensing Company, the agent for Ole Miss licensing issues, released a memo in March to all licensees that the image of the Colonel may only be licensed through Aug. 31, 2010.

On Wednesday, the image entered the College Vault Program where it can only be licensed out for special occasions for historical use.

“The university will maintain its ownership rights in the Colonel Reb marks to reflect the logos’ place as part of the university’s history. Placing it in the vault program is an appropriate way to respect the mark and maintain ownership in it,” said Clay Jones, director of human resources at Ole Miss.

Although Tuesday was the cut off date for the Colonel, merchandise still in stock that was previously approved through the licensing company can remain until it is sold out.

When a business wants to sell a trademark, image or photograph that is licensed by the university, it must obtain permission to use the image on any materials.

Jones said any future approvals will be through its College Vault program coordinated through the CLC, but the use must be historical in scope.

The university posted a blog noting that it is phasing out the Colonel Reb image in on-campus merchandise.

“We plan to eliminate on-campus sales of Colonel Reb merchandise, but first, we will allow our on-campus vendors to sell through their current inventory and, therefore, minimize the financial impact on them.

“This will take several months. Current merchandise that bears the Colonel Reb mark and is being sold by off-campus vendors will likewise be phased out via a natural inventory-reduction plan. But, it is unrealistic to think that in the foreseeable future all merchandise available bearing the mark will be off the market,” according to the blog.

Oxford merchants are not about to miss this last opportunity to cash in on the Colonel.

Several stores have stocked up before the first home football game this Saturday to ensure Ole Miss football fans can buy all the Colonel Reb merchandise they can carry.

Last weekend, when students returned to Oxford and Ole Miss, one retailer said his sales of Colonel Rebel T-shirts increased 40 percent.

“I think people know that he is about to be gone and the sales have definitely increased,” said Mike Tatum, owner of the Oxford T-Shirt Co. “We are selling T-shirts with Colonel Rebel on them and will be through the fall. Everyone should know that there is a limited supply out there once production stops and the shirts with his likeness are going to go fast.”

Manufacturers such as Nike or Adidas had to stop production by midnight Tuesday to comply with the ruling set six months ago, Jones said. Apparel companies sell their products to places such as Walmart, Hibbett Sports and Dick’s, and it’s retailers who have been asking for a greater amount of these items since the deadline was set.

Jones said Ole Miss has no control over retailers, so they can sell Colonel Reb products until their stock runs out.

Jeff Busby, co-owner with Pat Patterson of University Sporting Goods, said the sale of Colonel Rebel T-shirts prior to the deadline was around 3 percent. But as the window of opportunity slowly closed on those who want to buy a Colonel Reb item, sales of mascot-embossed products are sizzling.

Chris Riddell, the owner of Ink Spot and Cat Daddy’s, reported a similar uptick in his Colonel Rebel sales over the summer. Riddell, who also produces T-shirts, is selling his Colonel Rebel materials locally and at a Jackson mall kiosk.

“Our Colonel Rebel sales have spiked, but I thought we would be selling more than we have,” Riddell said. “I would say that we have doubled — if not tripled — the products we used to sell with him on it. The emphasis has been more than average and we have the inventory to meet the demand.”

Some stores won’t be affected as they don’t currently carry Colonel Reb merchandise.

“To my knowledge, we don’t have anything with the Rebel on it,” Walmart Shift Manager Jeff Legge said. “We just have the Ole Miss or University of Mississippi logos.”

John Davis and Melanie Addington/Oxford Eagle