Chapel Hill, N.C. — The Tar Heel brand name is a money-maker, generating $25.9 million for the University of North Carolina, according to a recent analysis by Forbes magazine.
The sales made UNC the most valuable men's basketball program in the country, Forbes said. The University of Kentucky ranked second with $25.4 million in merchandise sales.
Duke University came in eighth on the Forbes list at $16.8 million, with North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University tied for 18th place at $12.8 million each.
Retailers in Chapel Hill said UNC-branded clothing, mugs and other items have continued to sell in recent months, despite the recession. The start of the NCAA Tournament, in which the basketball team won easily Thursday and is among the favorites to win the national title, ratchets sales up even higher, they said.
"I told somebody the other day there's only four things that people need. That's food, gas, shelter and Carolina souvenirs, and we happen to be in the latter part of that, so we're very fortunate," said Genny Wrenn, manager of the Shrunken Head Boutique on Franklin Street.
Holly Dedmon, manager of Chapel Hill Sportswear, said most local merchants win whenever the Tar Heels take the court.
"People, they just want something else, maybe to be distracted from everything else that's going on in life with their jobs or their financial situation," Dedmon said.
"You're going to spend money on the Tar Heels," fan Chris Parsons said. "It's always going to happen, no matter what."
Carolina Brewery manager Thomas Transue said his restaurant is usually packed during the NCAA Tournament, especially when UNC is playing.
"There is such a strong background. We've had folks coming in for years for the Tar Heels," Transue said.