Tampa's a hot market for Super Bowl apparel sales

How do they make those Super Bowl champions hats and T-shirts to outfit the winning team at the final whistle?

Easy. They make them in advance, then collect and shred the losers' versions.

Welcome to the so-called "hot market" of licensed sports merchandise that's now as familiar to Super Bowl hoopla as confetti cannons. Dating from onetime Nutmeg Industries in the 1990s, Tampa's been a cradle of this industry that rushes the winning team's goods to market as soon as the game ends. Today, team-specific goods touting playoff champs are as much as 15 percent of annual licensed sports apparel sales. In Major League Baseball, it's hit 20 percent.

"These are emotional buys for fans who want something that says they were there and are willing to pay a premium for it," said Marty Brochstein, senior vice president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.

The silk screen machines at Nutmeg successor VF Imagewear will run all night once the Super Bowl is settled Sunday. Across the bay in St. Petersburg, LogoHQ, which recently changed its name from Full Bore Promotions, revved up its 18-color presses to make the championship Reebok locker room T-shirts to be worn by the winning players after the game.

"On Super Bowl night, we catch the halftime score, then pay close attention in the third quarter to set up the presses for the winner," said Phil Ruzicka, president of Logo HQ, poised to crank out 2,000 Reebok T-shirts an hour. Reebok also hired local printers to do the same thing in Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Some new elements to the battle plan: Super Bowl retailers around Raymond James Stadium will be stocked after the game to sell hats and apparel with the champion's name to fans on their way to hotels or the airport. For the first time, Reebok's championship T's will be made of organic cotton with hang tags of recycled material. The green stitching in the shoulder is both a hint of ecofriendliness and to make the shirts stand out on TV.

Hot marketers love TV exposure. Product handlers storm the bench, putting hats and shirts first in the hands of players likely to be interviewed: head coach, quarterback and game MVP.

Officially, product makers have no favorite. Privately they root for the Steelers. That's because Steelers merchandise — like Green Bay, Chicago and the New York teams — built a national following that buys four times as much as Arizona Cardinals rooters.

Tampa's a hot market for Super Bowl apparel sales 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 11:11pm]

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