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Beyond the Block M


Alyssa Levy

December 9, 2023

I’m in a small town in Rhode Island with my family, wearing a Michigan baseball hat. It’s navy blue, with the classic yellow block M. From across the street, I hear a shout of “Go Blue!” and my head whirls around, giving a wave and a smile to the voice. Something is startling and yet simultaneously unifying about hearing those words, knowing that whenever I wear Michigan gear, I am not just wearing the name of the school that I attend, but I am representing my membership in a massive network of people who have some connection to my campus, my university, and the place that I – however temporarily – get to call home. 

As a third-year student at the University of Michigan, I walk past the M Den at least several times a week. The original and largest storefront of the apparel giant, the M Den is located about 2 minutes from the heart of campus and sells just about anything you could ever want with the Michigan brand stamped on it: from “Michigan Nephew” t-shirts to mugs, and even football player bobbleheads. The Michigan brand is widely known and wrought with pride and prestige, especially for those who attend the school, making the M Den a crucial stop for anything Michigan-related you may need. But have you ever considered the unique economics behind this collegiate apparel powerhouse? 

The M Den operates in a unique and fascinating spot between unsurmountable limitations and exclusive possibilities. Because it is so uniquely tied to the Michigan brand – despite being privately owned – there are certain constraints on what they can sell. Shirts ridden with profanity or transparent clothing items are among the many off-limits items. Everything that the M Den sells must get approved by CLC (the Collegiate Licensing Company), a subsidiary of the NCAA. This somewhat slows down new merchandising processes, as potential new designs have to jump through significantly more hoops with more regulation than regular vendors, such as nearby boutique Pitaya. Other constraints revolve around the proliferation of brick-and-mortar storefronts. 

Although the M Den has expanded within the Ann Arbor and Michigan area, opening a storefront in Columbus, Ohio, wouldn’t be a logical move. Despite the limitations on in-person revenues, it is noteworthy that 80% of the M Den’s revenue is generated from online sales. The M Den benefits from the brand’s popularity and widespread recognition. This makes people excited to represent the M from locations worldwide. 

The commercial potential of our public university’s brand cannot be understated for the M Den. With the unique opportunity as the official outfitter for Michigan to dominate the industry as the go-to option for those wishing to buy Michigan gear, marketing or advertising would be superfluous. There is no need for a catalog when hundreds of thousands want to represent the brand of a historical institution and the greatest public university in the world. 

However, some pitfalls arise with the intertwined nature of the M Den and the University of Michigan. Revenues per quarter reflect those of the school in that they fluctuate in tandem with the football team’s performance. Current owner Scott Hirsch cited the Kona Equity graph of annual revenue to discuss how the last three years (where we have beaten Ohio State at football) have led to three of the highest historical quarters of revenue, hitting $36 million in Quarter 2 of 2021. Hirsch also said he anticipates that “no year will be matched if Michigan wins a National Championship in football.” 

The pride we carry in our Michigan gear transcends mere representation. The inherent connection between U-M apparel and the M Den runs deeper than commerce: it’s a testament to our collective pride. The economic dynamics of the M Den reveal a unique symbiosis with the university, one that mirrors the ebb and flow of school pride and even athletic triumph. My Michigan baseball cap (my first purchase from the M Den) became a beacon of friendship and camaraderie, sparking a “Go Blue!” greeting that will always bring me back to the essence of my university experience and my membership in a community that spans beyond campus borders. 


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