After the final at-bat of the 2016 World Series, as T-shirts commemorating the winning team hit retailers’ shelves almost as soon as they’re on players’ backs, versions celebrating the losers start a journey to the shredder.
It didn’t always work that way. In past years, retailers donated preprinted Major League Baseball championship merchandise for losing teams overseas.
Each new round of the postseason comes with new commemorative merchandise retailers can order in advance to guarantee they will be ready for post-win sales. But retailers who want to be ready for eager Chicago Cubs fans — who have had few chances to buy a shirt that says both “World Series” and “Cubs” — also risk ending up with unsellable apparel.
Last year, VF Licensed Sports Group required customers who wanted early access to merchandise celebrating a baseball team’s postseason run agree to ship any merchandise with a losing team’s 2015 MLB postseason clinch logos, images or graphics to international nonprofit World Vision. Customers had 24 hours following a loss to get in touch with World Vision to start the donation process, according to a 2015 agreement provided by a retailer.
VF Licensed Sports Group and Majestic, which makes MLB uniforms and officially licensed postseason apparel, including the shirts players don immediately after a series win, are subsidiaries of Greensboro, N.C.-based VF Corp.
“Our goal is to protect teams by preventing product from getting into the general marketplace that was produced in preparation for an event that could, but ultimately did not, happen,” MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said in an email.
Other companies that create officially licensed postseason merchandise, such as baseball cap maker New Era, did not respond to requests for comment.
The midseason switch came as a surprise to some retailers. Just Tuesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods said in a statement that it worked with World Vision to “donate unused championship merchandise to countries in need.”
Another retailer was sent a revised agreement that replaced the donation requirement with a mandate to ship any items for losing teams back for destruction.
Majestic said its policies — designed to keep the championship designs secret until a win and minimize the amount of product created that can’t be sold while still getting it to the market quickly — have been changing over the past couple of weeks.
Retailers who violate an agreement not to sell, advertise or promote the losing team’s merchandise agree to pay $100,000 per breach, according to the 2016 World Series preprinted merchandise agreement.
The baseball postseason doesn’t always generate as much contingency product as winner-take-all events like the Super Bowl, where either team could take the title. In a lopsided baseball series, many retailers won’t commit to taking preprinted merchandise for the team that’s falling behind.
The 2016 VF Licensed Sports Group agreement for World Series merchandise lets customers choose to start having their items made — and commit to eating a percentage of the cost — once a team has three wins and anywhere from zero to three losses.
But at least some 2016 MLB postseason apparel has escaped Majestic’s shredder. World Vision already has received donated merchandise celebrating postseason runs with the logos of teams that narrowly missed qualifying, said Jim Fischerkeller, the organization’s corporate engagement senior director.
“We work very hard to service all of our corporate partners in a manner that will protect their brands, and we distribute the products that they make available to World Vision through efficient and strategic processes designed to serve those in need,” he said in an email. “Our hope is that those relationships would continue as long as the need does and that when materials are available, they will continue to partner with us.”