After a big game in any sport, fans and players are going to be clamoring for commemorative merchandise, often just minutes after the game ends. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening "We’re #1" euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of T-shirts, hats and other merchandise, declaring each team the champ.
Based on strong sales after the Chicago Bears’ 2007 NFC Championship win, Sports Authority printed more than 15,000 shirts proclaiming a Bears Super Bowl victory well before the game even started. And then the Colts beat the Bears, 29-17.
That’s a lot of misprinted shirts that can’t hit store shelves, and seem like fine candidates for the incinerator instead. And for a long time, that’s where they went, with all four major American pro sports leagues—MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL—requiring the destruction of incorrect post-season apparel.
Fortunately, most of the leagues changed the way they do things and started donating the gear.
For almost two decades, an international humanitarian aid group called World Vision collected the unwanted items at its distribution center in Pittsburgh, then shipped them overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families living in extreme poverty in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
In 2011, after Pittsburgh lost to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers Super Bowl apparel went to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania.
Beginning in 2015, after 19 years with World Vision, the NFL started working with Good360. After New England defeated Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Seahawks gear was distributed in Azerbaijan and Georgia.
— Kristen Drew (@KDrewKOMO) February 2, 2015
It's too early to say where this year's Patriots or Falcons merchandise will end up. In 2016, Good360 chief marketing officer Shari Rudolph told mental_floss that details about the products available for donation will be sent to Good360 in about a week. They'll notify their nonprofit partners and determine who needs what.
"Once they request the product, it is shipped to a domestic location and stored within their facilities until they have enough product (through Good360 and other sources) to fill a container," Rudolph said. "Then it is shipped overseas and distributed to people in need."
As for those hats that seem to materialize out of thin air: Apparel company New Era Caps has already made 288 lids for each team. They'll be stored in bags and monitored before being brought out to the field so the winners can celebrate in style.
A prior version of this story appeared in 2009. Additional reporting by Jake Rossen.