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  July 30th, 2012 | Written by

The Inside-Out World of Pro Football

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It’s a marvel of modern industry: members of U.S. sports teams win a championship game and—presto—within seconds of the final buzzer/whistle/strikeout—they’re suddenly wearing caps and shirts proclaiming their victory in a game that, only an instant before, was still uncertain. The losers’ shirts and caps? They’ll end up in the third world. Here’s the backstory.


1 As soon as two January 22 playoffs determined the New York Giants and New England Patriots would play in the 2012 Super Bowl, the National Football League ordered 300 shirts, caps and towels for each of those teams, staff and even families. At the same time, the league directed Reebok (until this year, the NFL’s licensed apparel-maker) to manufacture and distribute to retailers clothing declaring each team the Super Bowl victor. Reebok’s ability to ship in time for the Feb. 5 game—14 days later—was part of the secret behind the rapid deployment of winners’ apparel.

2 Reebok was founded in England; is part of Adidas, the German athletic-apparel giant; is headquartered in the U.S.; and manufactured most of its clothing—including Super Bowl gear—in China.

3 Hours before the Super Bowl, Reebok-licensed team caps and shirts declaring each team the Super Bowl champ arrived in the respective team locker rooms at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in retail distribution centers around North America.

4 The New England Patriots lost, of course. So while New York Giants fans partied in new caps and tees, NFL officials secured the Patriots’ championship gear.

5 In the olden days, the NFL simply destroyed the losers’ gear as “mislabeled” and “brand-damaging.” But under terms of a novel 1994 agreement, the unused NFL gear is donated to World Vision, a century-old Christian relief organization that gets the stuff out of North America. Other professional sports leagues—including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League—have similar arrangements with World Vision.

6 On Monday morning, about 12 hours after the Super Bowl, NFL officials shipped the Patriots gear via FedEx to World Vision’s warehouse in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

7 By Tuesday, World Vision volunteers in Sewickley received the gear from all sources—retail distribution centers, silent/grim locker rooms—and sorted it carefully “by age, size and season,” Jeff Fields, WV’s senior director of corporate relations, told Global Trade. “We don’t want to send

XX-large shirts to a country that doesn’t have large people, or size-14 shoes to people with small feet.”

8 Information about the NFL gear was entered into World Vision’s database and made available to in-country aid workers who identify potential recipients. The gear was broken down again and, along with personal-care items and other equipment bound for the respective markets, loaded onto pallets. “On average,” World Vision figures, the NFL contribution alone “equates to about 100 pallets annually—$2 million worth of product—or about 100,000 articles of clothing.” Volunteers move the pallets into containers.

9 Third-party logistics firm CH Robinson manages World Vision’s incoming donations. Experts in foreign markets handle outgoing shipments, including the losing team’s Super Bowl apparel. World Vision’s Africa-bound donations, for example, are managed by Missionary Expediters. That firm arranges trucking of containers from Sewickley to the Port of Baltimore (though, occasionally, to the Port of New York and New Jersey). Missionary Expediters determines ocean carriers by price and availability. [PORT OF BALTIMORE] In 2012, New England Patriots Super Bowl apparel went to several regions, including Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

10 In distant ports, smaller trucks—sometimes owned by World Vision itself—handle delivery to the final destination. Aid officials there assure (as Fields puts it) “that people aren’t walking away with boxes” and that the NFL gear doesn’t end up where it shouldn’t—like, maybe, for sale in the U.S. via eBay.

11 At the other end of that exquisite supply chain, there’s a kid who got a free, high-quality shirt. The National Football League got a tax write-off. World Vision got publicity for its ancillary relief efforts around the globe. Everybody’s a winner, except maybe the Patriots—or before them, the NFL’s No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers.

12 Even so generous an act has critics. “We know that GIK (gifts in kind) items (like clothing) that are readily available in a country undermine local clothing markets, create dependence, and deprive poor people of work and the dignity work provides,” Laura Seay, a Morehouse College political science professor, writes on the Christian Science Monitor’s Africa Monitor blog.

13 Not so, says World Vision spokesperson Amy Parodi: her organization sends “the Super Bowl gear to several different communities in at least four different countries to ensure that we don’t flood their local markets with more supplies than the market can handle and that our distributions don’t have an adverse affect on local suppliers.”

14 A reader of the women’s fashion magazine Glamour liked the idea, saying it’s “certainly better than the dress company that you reported was spray-painting red Xs on their wedding dresses before putting them in the dumpster. Yay, NFL!”