When the clock hits triple zeros for each Super Bowl, the new champs always seem to magically have Super Bowl apparel signifying that victory instantaneously. But it's not magic that puts those hats and shirts in their hands so quickly, it's the logistics of Super Bowl apparel. As Super Bowl LVI approaches, whether fans actually see Cincinnati Bengals or Los Angeles Rams championship gear depends on the outcome, but rest assured the retail supply chain is prepared either way. And the losing team's gear? That doesn't disappear either.
The Super Bowl Apparel Supply Chain
The Super Bowl apparel supply chain involves multiple layers. The earliest preparations can take place well in advance, with simple branded, team-agnostic Super Bowl clothing, hats and other items manufactured and shipped. But the most popular merchandise needs to include the participating teams. So shippers plan out their paths to get items to the big game location - and retailers - in short order, then wait for the results of the AFC and NFC Championship games to find out the Super Bowl participants. Once those games are over, there's a two week window to the Super Bowl, though merchandise must be ready much sooner.
Because apparel must be available to consumers fast as fans celebrate their favorite teams' Super Bowl appearance, much of the journey for this apparel has already taken place by then. Unlike normal circumstances where finished clothing is shipped to retailers, clothing makers stage blanks with printers at the locations of the participating teams (as well as the Super Bowl location). Once the results are known, the printers located in the winning team's region kick into high gear, while the losing city's printers are excused. In other words, many of these items are never printed. The key to this story is, there may not be as many pre-printed Super Bowl apparel items as many think, but there still must be some - and that "some" number is reportedly up to 200,000 - to provide to winning players, coaches, and of course fans on-site ready to pony up to mark a victory.
What happens to the losing Super Bowl team hats and shirts?
The side effect of needing so-called "locker room" hats and shirts for Super Bowl-winning teams, is the need to pre-make them for both possible winners. The NFL does not sell or distribute the losing team's Super Bowl champion apparel, but it does get put to good use. While these alternate history Super Bowl team hats and shirts were generally destroyed as recently as 25 years ago, they've since been donated to needy areas. A non-profit organization called Good360 handles this distribution, helping the NFL and other companies with "responsibly distributing excess goods for maximum impact."
The logistical component here is interesting, as the NFL is quite strict about keeping this alt-history clothing out of stores. So that means the losing team's merchandise stays in boxes and goes back through secret distribution centers. Then Good360 partners with approved charities that funnel it into a rotating group of countries pre-approved by the NFL, all through a thoroughly vetted and secretive process to keep the Super Bowl hats and shirts from prying fans. When you watch Super Bowl LVI - or any future game - take a few moments to think about the unique logistics of Super Bowl apparel.
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