- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A couple of hours after the Penguins won the Eastern Conference championship last month, Tim Piett drove to a shirt manufacturer in Grove City. The store manager for Yinzers in the Burgh arrived at Ithen Global at about 3 a.m. - three hours ahead of his scheduled pickup time. So, he took a nap.

He woke up at 5 a.m. and an hour later had filled a van full of championship T-shirts. He got back to the Strip District at 7:30 a.m., then stocked the store shelves for a flow of Penguins fans coming through the doors. Yinzers has seen three times its normal daily sales each day since.

If the Penguins knock off the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009, experts say demand for championship merchandise will be three or four times greater than it was for the Eastern Conference championship. While the fans celebrate, manufacturers and stores will crank the machines and hustle - preparing apparel within seconds of the game’s end.

“It’s slide-down-the-fire-pole, SWAT-mode the moment the team wins,” said James Haskins, National Hockey League group vice president of consumer products licensing in New York City. “It’s literally hot off the press.

“We’ll schedule deliveries with local retailers. We’ll synchronize when their trucks and our trucks are literally backed up to the local printing press to pick up their order. Over the last five years, technology has created a speed that allows us to harness this more readily and serve the fan better during the peak moment.”


This process of preparing teams and fans with championship apparel begins long before the night the winners hoist the trophy at center ice. It starts in the summer, 10 months before the next year’s Stanley Cup final.

The NHL works with Reebok - the official outfitter of the NHL - and 47 Brand, an apparel provider in Boston, on designs. “We’ll look at graphics, what those graphics will represent on a T-shirt and hat,” said Mr. Haskins. “What are the current trends? What messages might we want to send in terms of color palette?”

Four or five months out, they’ll land on a T-shirt design and begin taking pre-orders in the various markets in contention for the Stanley Cup. A few weeks before the playoffs, Pittsburgh-area merchandise shops placed their so-called “if-when orders,” or loose pre-orders.

If the Penguins win a series, those stores get their orders. If the Penguins lose, the orders are cancelled.

Presale estimates for Penguins’ Eastern Conference final gear were 10 times greater than those for Tampa Bay, said Chris Ithen, co-founder of Ithen Global in Grove City. The company does not handle Tampa Bay merchandise, but if the Penguins win the Cup, Ithen Global expects to produce several thousand championship T-shirts. It can produce at about 3,000 T-shirts per hour.

Representatives from major retailers Macy’s and J.C. Penney were among those lined up outside the Ithen Global facility at 4:30 a.m. following the Penguins’ Game 7 win against Tampa Bay last month.


There are three phases following a Stanley Cup final win, which Haskins refers to as the peak moment of emotional connection between fan and team.

First is the fan’s immediate demand for a championship product within 24 hours of the game. Second is the city-wide Stanley Cup victory parade, when fans want the parade T-shirts. At Yinzers, shirts range from $10 to $30.

The third phase lasts through the summer and into the fall, when the puck drops on opening night the next season. That’s also when the team’s banner-raising ceremony culminates the championship celebration, Haskins said.

Some of the more popular products following phase one are the collectibles and keepsakes, including autographed products, coins and replica rings. Early on, the most popular item is the locker room hat.

“They glue the logo on the team onto the hat at the last minute,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst for the NPD Group Inc., a retail consulting firm in Port Washington, N.Y. “It will either have a Shark or Penguin on it, but the hat is identical for both teams.”

In a close series, a couple of hundred locker room T-shirts are produced in advance for each team. They don’t need to make more because production speeds are so much faster than in the past. The loser’s locker room apparel doesn’t get shipped overseas, something that was done in the past with such gear.

“That’s going away,” Haskins said. “There’s no need for that anymore because there’s no quantities to ship.”


At the end of a championship, planes full of merchandise await take off at the runway and trucks back up to warehouses, ready to depart.

“For the guys on the ice, the moment they win the Cup, it’s one of the first things they look for,” Haskins said. “They take off their helmet and put their cap on. It’s become quite a symbol of being a champion. When they take the team pic with their hats on, it’s quite a phenomenon.”

Teams that reach the championship level after a several-year drought tend to see a significant uptick in merchandise sales, Haskins said. One notable exception was when the Chicago Blackhawks won three championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In each year, championship merchandise sales grew.

“They sort of bucked the trend,” Haskins said.

NHL championship preparation differs from that of the National Football League, which has fewer variables. The site of the Super Bowl is planned years in advance and one game will determine the champion.

The NHL playoffs are less predictable. NHL officials run from market to market in a back-and-forth series. The locker room products and Stanley Cup trophy are secured in unmarked vessels.

At this point, Ithen Global has been preparing for several days to ensure the palates and shirts are laid out, the ink levels are high enough and everybody’s ready so that when the final buzzer sounds, production begins. When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009, Ithen Global spent $6,000 solely in preparing screens and setting up backups of backups.

“We’re ready to hit the ground running,” said Jerry McGeehan, director of business development at Ithen Global. “We prepare like it’s the final game, either way.”

If San Jose comes back and wins the series, Ithen Global could be asked to produce some Sharks merchandise, but it’s unlikely because the NHL will have a similar deal with manufacturers in California.

“If (the Penguins) were to lose Game 7, it’s over,” McGeehan said. “It’s fun when you win, but expensive when you lose.”


Online: https://bit.ly/219YkSi


Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide