Defects Example – Dallas Cowboys Championship Gear

Posted on January 2, 2012 | in Defects, Football, Inventory, Lean Wastes, Manufacturing, Sports, Time Savings, Transportation | by

Sunday night, the New York (Football) Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys for the 2011 NFC East Championship. As is a newfangled popular custom with professional sports teams on the verge of a championship, the Giants and the NFL make sure to have championship gear and merchandise available IMMEDIATELY after the contests so the gear can be sold right away to game-attending fans, available for purchase online, and worn by the title-winning players on the field after the game.

However, a problem presents itself here: no one knew who the champion was going to be. (That’s why they play the game!)

So with the inability to accurately predict the future, the teams and the NFL have championship merchandise for each team printed before the game. That means that somewhere in the confines of the stadium there are two sets of shirts/hats/gear – one depicting the Giants as division champions, the other celebrating the Cowboys. And one of these sets will be destroyed.*

So the Cowboys shirt above? You’ll never see it, but it does in fact exist. When the Giants won, the boxes with the Cowboys gear was hidden away, to be disposed of. Thousands of shirts, hundreds of hats, all to be thrown away.

But does it have to be that way? Must teams create full sets of merchandise for each team before the game even starts?

It appears to me that a significant amount of wasted merchandise (gear created for the teams that DON’T win, thereby making their gear false) could be prevented with better planning of logistics, manufacturing, and assembly.

So what all was wasted with this process? Not only was the raw material (shirts, iron-ons, hats, inks, dyes, thread, etc.) used on defective product, but also the time needed to create the items (manufacture of blank shirts and iron-ons, time taken to press the iron-ons, folding and packaging) and transportation of goods from suppliers to point of use, and space consumed by the footprint of inventory.

What could the teams and the NFL done to prevent the waste from occurring?

  • Local sourcing: By using suppliers close to point of use, the teams could have minimized the need for transportation.
  • Complete assembly right before use: The championship shirts consist of blank shirts with team iron-ons. The inventory essentially consisted of two styles of iron-ons and two sets of blank t-shirts. If a local source had batches of iron-ons for both teams and would print the shirts right when needed, the need for both sets of blank shirts would be reduced to just one set (because it’s available for use for both teams).
  • Better planning for on-site needs: The logistics for preparing merchandise at the stadium could be tricky, especially if the game is close until the end. In that scenario, prepare sets of merchandise for each team but ONLY what would be needed AT THAT TIME. How many shirts/hats will the teams need on the field? How many shirts/hats can the attendees expect to buy at the stadium? Make only enough to cover that demand.
  • Don’t even start to make merchandise sold off-site/online until the winner is known: The logistics for on-site merchandising is tough to navigate, but getting the merchandise for the rest of the world is a piece of cake. Sites like can start taking orders for championship gear as soon as the game is over, but it’s not like the ordered merchandise has to be stamped and shipped right when the order is placed. Begin creating the championship gear immediately after the game and fill the demand that way instead of ordering a lot in advance and having to throw half of the lot away.

I’m not sure if teams and leagues have sought ways to make this process better, but I’m guessing that the price points teams realize by making products overseas tend to trump trying to actually see the costs of “invisible” wasteful activities. There are lots of opportunities to save time and money by doing things slightly different.

(* – That’s what leagues used to do with “defective” merchandise; those shirts would never see the light of day. Now teams donate those shirts to third world countries because of such significant public backlash that teams were being wasteful while so many people in the world struggle to afford clothing.)

(Hat tip to Darren Rovell of for the photo and to Mark Graban for the sports licensed apparel production notes)

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4 Responses to “Defects Example – Dallas Cowboys Championship Gear”

  1. Lindsay Baxter says:

    As an extra bonus, a limited supply produced either before or immediately after the contest could be marketed as a “limited edition” version, automatically increasing its profitability.

  2. Chad Walters says:

    I really don’t know the official justification for why teams don’t do this. They certainly don’t want to have “defective” merchandise floating around, but collectors appreciate the scarcity of such merchandise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a diehard Cowboys fan try to obtain one by way of African nation trade.

    That’s why error cards in sports collector card sets are so popular. The card companies don’t WANT errors in their product and won’t promote their defects but they do occur, and collectors like having stuff few others have.

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