What happens to the losing team’s “champion” outfit?

A used t-shirt showing an alternate reality – in which the Bengals beat the 49ers in 1989 – is priced at $10,000 on EBay. (Jerome Adamstein/Los Angeles Times)

Call it Schrödinger’s hat paradox.

Right now, thousands of caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts and face masks proclaiming the Los Angeles Rams the next Super Bowl champion sit in boxes. A parallel pile of merchandise celebrates the Cincinnati Bengals victory.

If the Rams win the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, all that Bengals gear will instantly become unsaleable, at least in the eyes of the NFL. If the Bengals manage to beat the Rams in their own home, the Rams’ kit will turn into wearable lies as soon as the whistle blows. A cat’s life may not be at stake, as in the quantum mechanics thought experiment, but it does present a conundrum for Los Angeles sports retailers.

Either way, a non-profit organization called Good360 is expecting delivery next week.

Since 2015, the Virginia-based organization has managed the losing team’s Super Bowl loot, doing the same for NFC and AFC championship games and the World Series.

Shari Rudolph, director of marketing at Good360, said the process is quite simple: the NFL sends retailers the address of a Good360 warehouse where they can ship the losing team’s merchandise; Good360 employees bundle it up and once they have enough to fill a shipping container, they send it overseas in conjunction with non-profits who distribute it to people who might use clothes free.

Where in the world does it all end? Rodolphe won’t tell. “With this donation, it’s a bit sensitive, so we don’t divulge the exact places they go,” Rudolph said. “What I can say is that they are found in countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America.”

The rarity of these artifacts increases their value to collectors; A t-shirt celebrating the Bengals as the 1989 Super Bowl XXIII champions, which they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, is currently listed on EBay for $10,000.

Rudolph said the total amount of bizarro championship gear is relatively small on the scale of Good360’s total operation, which processed $1.3 billion in donations in 2021. than a few thousand items for each event that are produced in advance”. said Rudolph.

Still, enough fans are willing to shell out on the spot that it makes sense to print a stack of surplus shirts even if half, inevitably, become charitable donations.

In the rest of the Super Bowl economy, small vendors have found ways around the problem.

BreakingT built a business from printing fast-twitch t-shirts, jumping on memes, trends, and moments that would be too niche for the big players to capitalize on.

A new jersey could commemorate a winning game, said BreakingT president Jamie Mottram, but “it could just as well be Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods having a very emotional moment on the court afterwards that will go viral.”

The company uses an in-house software tool to track what’s happening on social media with all major professional and college teams to determine what captures fans’ attention, then calls on artists to create a new design within hours. and goes to the league in question for license approval. Then the design goes online. Only once the orders start coming in does the printing begin.

The company typically relies on its in-house printing facility in Virginia to produce its wares, but in the event of a genuine business emergency across the country, Mottram said it can bring in local printers to meet demand. . When the Padres hit their ‘Slam Diego’ streak in 2020, “it took off overnight, and we were working with printers in San Diego to get the products into the stadium and into the hands of the players, so they all had the shirts at batting practice,” Mottram said.

Heading into the Super Bowl, Mottram said the Bengals’ gear was outselling the Rams 4-to-1 — “If you’re a Bengals fan, you’re wasting your money and your mind right now,” a- he said – but the company has a number of “so-win” orders in place with retailers across the country.

“If the Rams win, they take X amount of that design and Y amount of that one, and if the Rams don’t win, we never release that product and tear up the order,” Mottram said. He expects the BreakingT factory to start printing Monday morning and ship the right equipment to stores overnight so they can enjoy the moment.

And despite the temptation, he said the company never took the initiative to print a product in advance and put the company’s money on a bookmaker to cover its investment. “We certainly talked about doing exactly that, but we never did.”

BreakingT generates revenue in the tens of millions, he said, allowing it to ride out some uncertainties. But small Los Angeles vendors face a different set of Super Bowl issues.

United States Customs and Border Protection officers open boxes of counterfeit goods.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers open boxes of counterfeit goods the agency recovered during a news conference February 4 near LAX ahead of the Super Bowl. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

A number of federal agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security Investigations — said they are actively pursuing counterfeit sellers “as part of a crackdown on property rights violations. intellectual” in Inglewood and the Los Angeles area. , according to a press release Wednesday. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security told the media that it confiscated approximately $44 million worth of illegal goods ahead of the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

On a sunny Tuesday five days before the big game, finding Rams gear, counterfeit or otherwise, proved difficult in the dense commercial area surrounding Santee Alley in the Fashion District. Dodgers, Lakers and Raiders merchandise was on display in dozens of small stores, but only one outlet in the alley itself had something for Rams fans.

Celia, a Route 110 store employee who didn’t want to share her last name, said demand for Rams gear had been low all year, so renewed interest after their NFC championship win took hold. store off guard. The store only sells officially licensed products, which the owner has to order months in advance, Celia said, so there wasn’t much left in stock. Prior to the conference championship win, however, “we had a lot more people looking for 49ers shirts” than Rams gear, she said, adding that Raiders gear is the top seller. eternal.

A few miles away, at the east end of MacArthur Park, a single vendor had Rams merchandise for sale.

The man, nicknamed “Walt”, said he planned to head to SoFi Stadium on Sunday with a stack of shirts for sale. He didn’t reveal his supplier, but said he gets his shirts for $7 each, sells them for $15, and plans to bring inventory of 60 shirts to Inglewood on game day.

Walt had his own elegant solution to the uncertainty of the championship kit market: his shirts will commemorate the Super Bowl as a whole, with the Rams and Bengals in the logo, rather than trying to pick a winner or loser at advance.

For memory:
3:27 p.m. February 11, 2022: An earlier version of this story misspelled Shari Rudolph’s last name as Randolph.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.