The arrival of March Madness this week has taken on a heightened revenue importance for Hanesbrands Inc. since its $200 million purchase of Knights Apparel in April 2015.
The addition was projected to boost Hanesbrands’ annualized sales of licensed and graphic apparel by more than $450 million.
Hanesbrands said nearly 10 percent of its Sports Apparel unit business comes from March Madness business, although there is spillover since the women’s and men’s championship games typically are played the first Sunday and Monday, respectively, of April,
“The Final Four weekend and the immediate weeks following are the largest selling period of the tournament,” Hanesbrands spokesman Matt Hall said.
Hanesbrands’ Event 1 business and its Knights Apparel predecessor have served as the NCAA’s onsite apparel concessionaire for its national tournaments since 1998.
Hanesbrands has exclusive rights to sell licensed fanwear at the men’s Final Four on March 31 through April 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Just like fans of teams hoping for at-large bids, the company’s Sports Apparel graphic art division had to wait until Sunday evening for the unveiling of the 68-team men’s tournament.
As each at-large team was named, employees could move forward in earnest on designs for T-shirts, hats, hoodies, fleece and other apparel and souvenir pieces. Depending on the national and regional popularity of each university, the designs could appear on upward of 150 items for the Final Four participants.
The division will do the same today once the women’s 64-team bracket is announced.
John Fryer, Hanesbrands’ president for sports and graphic apparel, said March Madness represents “an absolute frenzy of activity to meet the daunting apparel needs of one of the world’s greatest sporting events.”
“It is one of the most exhilarating, exhausting and satisfying business challenges of the year.”
The three-week operational push climaxes following the women’s title game in Columbus, Ohio, on April 1 and men’s title game when screen printing companies work feverishly overnight to supply the initial wave of championship T-shirts and other apparel.
“The championship shirt adds an extra level of complexity to our process,” Fryer said.
“So while close games and buzzer beaters can be exciting for fans, our team typically hopes that they can predict the winner a few minutes ahead of the game’s end.”
The Sports Apparel division’s workforce of 50 employees started more than a week ago on graphic art designs as teams earned their conference’s automatic berth. All designs have to be ready for printing by today.
For the First Four, otherwise known as the four play-in games, the division faces a particular challenging time crunch since play begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Altogether, the division expects its handiwork to show up in nearly 500,000 pieces of March Madness apparel. About 25 percent of those sales will take place around the Final Four events.
“We will need to refresh the graphic artwork and print more shirts and hats each week as teams advance, and we’ll do it with as little as 48 hours’ notice for three consecutive weeks,” Fryer said.
Hanesbrands said T-shirts and hats account for about 80 percent of sales.
Through buying Knights Apparel, Hanesbrands gained the license to sell apparel to 400 of the largest U.S. colleges and universities in the traditional and online retail channels.
Hanesbrands also have licenses to sell apparel at many of those universities’ campus bookstores through its $55 million purchase of Gear For Sports in August 2010.
Event 1 will operate concession stands and kiosks at 14 different game sites for the men’s tournament and 21 sites for the women’s tournament. The women’s tournament opening rounds are played at home sites.
There are also opportunities for sales at 15 NCAA sanctioned hotels, the March Madness Music Festival and Fan Fest during the men’s tournament, and at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, along with six NCAA sanctioned hotels and Tourney Town during the women’s tournament.
Hanesbrands relies on local contractors for most of its quick-turn apparel printing, including Nvizion Inc. in King and Classic Creation in Hillsville, Va., for teams from the Carolinas and Virginia advancing in the tournaments.
For example, when UNC won the 2017 men’s title, the presses at Nvizion started rolling five minutes after the final buzzer, pumping out thousands of printed championship T-shirts.
Rita Marshall, Nvizion’s administrative manager, said in April 2017 that employees worked their regular shifts all day Monday, went home for a quick nap, then came back to work during the basketball game’s halftime.
Marshall said 20 extra people from a temporary pool were brought in to help with the contract order, providing a total of 40 workers for the project.
“The orders tend to be micro in nature,” Hanesbrands spokesman Matt Hall said.
“For example, a specific Walmart in an area that caters to University of North Carolina fans may order 24 shirts for a UNC regional title.
“Another store in another area may order many more shirts for North Carolina and Duke,”