On Wednesday night, Texas beat USC 41-38 to win the Rose Bowl and college football's national championship. After the game, Longhorns players paraded around the field sporting freshly minted championship hats and T-shirts. But what happens to the merchandise that gets printed up for championship game losers?
It gets shredded or shipped. The fate of the incorrect merchandise depends on the sport and controlling organization. Two different sets of locker room memorabilia get printed only if a game is a one-shot deal—like the Rose Bowl or the Super Bowl—or if a series is down to the final game.
Each league has its own policy. Major League Baseball prints up victory merchandise in three phases: for each league's division and Wild Card winners (eight teams total); for each pennant winner; and for the World Series champ. MLB prints fewer than 200 sets of hats and shirts per event. If they do have to print up merchandise for both teams, like when the World Series is tied 3-3, the losing team's shirts and hats get shredded to avoid confusion and embarrassment.
Other leagues donate the extra apparel. The National Football League prepares approximately 300 sets of merchandise for each conference-championship winner and the Super Bowl victor. That means there will be at least 900 hats and shirts commemorating a win that didn't happen. The NFL donates that merchandise to World Vision, a charity that passes the apparel to people in impoverished, war-torn, or otherwise needy countries.
The National Basketball Association doesn't print up their celebratory merch until a team has two wins in a playoff series. If they have to manufacture apparel for both teams, the extra stuff—usually a couple hundred pairs of shirts and hats—gets distributed through the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. Recent recipients of the losers' garb include Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa.
The fate of the NCAA's locker-room merchandise depends on whether it is in the possession of the manufacturers or the Collegiate Licensing Company, which handles the clothing after it leaves the factory. If the shirts and hats haven't left the manufacturer's plant, they are professionally destroyed. If the CLC has them, they work with a variety of charities to donate them. When USC beat Oklahoma in last year's championship game, the shirts commemorating an OU victory were distributed in Haiti with the assistance of a local church.
Fans who want celebratory T-shirts typically have to wait until the next day. Printing companies have blank shirts and artwork ready to go before the game starts. If it looks like a local printing company's team is going to lose, staffers get sent home. But if the home team clinches a victory, staffers spend the night printing up the shirts to send to stores the next morning.
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Explainer thanks Carmine Tiso of Major League Baseball, Tammy Purves of the Collegiate Licensing Company, Dan Masonson of the National Football League, and Matt Bourne of the National Basketball Association.