There are upwards of 25 colleges and universities with a branded beer, and nearly a dozen with a licensed wine. But just one—New Mexico State University—has partnered with a distiller on a trademarked spirit (NM State is among those with both a beer and a wine). AD Mario Moccia said sales of Pistol Pete’s Six-Shooter, a rye whiskey that made its debut in November, have exceeded his “wildest dreams. The first barrel sold out almost immediately, and there is a waiting list for another 635 bottles on order.” The New Mexico State athletic director called the unexpected demand one of the “few bright spots” to have arisen out of the pandemic. That’s because he said it has turned the school’s focus onto the consumables category—”a no-brainer [sponsorship class] that is largely being overlooked” at a time when every college could use the revenue.
Our Take: New Mexico State first entered the consumables category back in 2016 with the introduction of a licensed beer. The school linked up with Bosque Brewery—a local brewing company owned by alumni of the Las Cruces-based University—to create Pistol Pete’s 1888 Ale. (You may have guessed by now that Pistol Pete is the mascot for the Aggie sports teams.) Initially sales were slow as the product was only available for purchase by the keg. But by year three, Pistol Pete’s was being distributed in cans across 300 locations within the state and generating meaningful revenue for the NM State athletic department. In 2019, the school took in north of $30,000 in licensing fees tied to the sale of 1888 Ale. To put that in perspective, “that [would be] my third biggest sport from a ticket [sales] standpoint,” Moccia said.
The success achieved with 1888 Ale led Moccia to pursue a partnership with Lescombes Winery—a local vineyard owned by an NM State alum—on the school’s first licensed wine. Pistol Pete’s Crimson Legacy, a cabernet sauvignon, debuted earlier this year, and as the New Mexico State AD said: “That thing just went crazy. We had a little event and [Lescombes] sold over 500 bottles within a few days. It was really, really popular.” The product, which was first released in October, remains “a pretty good seller [today],” he added. Moccia won’t know exactly how much revenue Crimson Legacy will generate for the athletic department this year until the quarter ends and royalty rates are calculated. But he expects the final number to be in the low five-figures. Remember, unlike beer and spirits, Crimson Legacy can be shipped out of state and is available in 39 states.
As with their licensed beer and wine, New Mexico State aligned with a local company owned by an alum (Dry Point Distillers) on the Six-Shooter. CLC issues sales reports on a quarterly basis, so it is premature to determine just how much New Mexico State will earn in Q4 whiskey sales. Moccia guesstimated the school would earn upwards of $10,000 in the first year.
Historically, schools have shied away from partnerships within the alcohol category. But Moccia called the pacts formed with Bosque, Lescombes and Dry Point to be “win-win-wins. New Mexico State alums own all three companies. They’re all New Mexico-based small businesses that have been severely impacted by the pandemic, and the licensing fee goes to help the athletic program. It all ties in so nicely together.” It’s also worth mentioning the school assumes no liability in the products themselves and as Moccia aptly pointed out, “Pretty much every school in the country has tailgaters and alcohol available in their suite areas” (where they do assume liability).
Back in August, Notre Dame announced Guinness has been named the “Official Beer of Notre Dame Football.” Moccia said it’s just a matter of time until partnerships within the alcohol category are commonplace. “When those blue-blood schools start partnering with companies [in a given industry], it breaks down the barriers because it kind of gives [other schools] cover to enter the category.”
The beauty of the consumables category is the frequency with which consumers purchase products. “If I sell a hat or a t-shirt, I get a licensing residual from that,” Moccia explained, “but [the buyer] keeps that hat or shirt for five or 10 years. Whereas, you can drink a bottle of wine in one sitting over dinner and then you get another one [the next time you go to dinner].” Of course, collaborating with the right partner is important. Like most things, “if you package [the product] up well it will sell once,” Moccia said. To keep people coming back—and to maximize profitability—it needs to taste good. 1888 Ale won a bronze medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival (beating out roughly 160 competitors within the category).
Moccia also sees the consumables category as a “no-brainer” because people are purchasing these items, anyway. In other words, they’re not luxury purchases. And the licensing fee on consumable products is roughly 12% of the wholesale price (compared to 8-10% on apparel). The AD said he envisions a future with NM State branded ice cream, milk, pistachios, pecans and chile products available for sale and suggested the category could eventually represent a “six-figure infusion into [the athletic] department.” On Monday, the Aggies announced a partnership with Estas Manos Coffee Roasters on a licensed roast (‘A Mountain’ roast).