It takes a certain amount of skill, planning, and luck to get commemorative championship game T-shirts from screen to store to happy fan overnight.
I learn that F&E is in a fortunate position to be contracted to print the T-shirts for both teams involved in the game. Oftentimes, a shop only has the license to print apparel for one team, so if they are doing the hot market and that team loses, all of the time and prep work was for naught. “Last year, we were set [to print] for Alabama [for the National Championship game] and it was a heartbreaker when Clemson scored with one second left,” Tidwell remembers. “I mean, we’ve got everybody here, presses are ready set to go, and Clemson scores. I had to walk out back to let everybody go home.” Though the diehard Tide fans on the crew may not like the team on the shirts they’re printing tonight, they can rest assured that there will be work to do.
An Alabama test print.
Another common hot-market strategy that F&E has employed in the past is printing “kill” shirts. This approach involves printing thousands of shirts for a team expected to win – say, the Purdue Boilermakers – with no score in the design, and sending boxes labeled “Do Not Open Unless Purdue Wins” to large stores such as Hibbett Sports or Dick’s Sporting Goods. If the team wins, then the store is ready to start selling T-shirts in the morning. If the team loses, the shirts either get thrown away or sent off to a developing country, since they can’t be released anywhere in the US. Tidwell tells me F&E has taken this gamble and lost one time, printing 5000 undistributable Kentucky Wildcats shirts before Wisconsin beat the undefeated UK basketball team in a nail-biting 2015 NCAA Tournament Final Four game.
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