D.C. Company Aims to Disrupt Sports Merch Industry With Real-Time Merchandise

Professional and collegiate sports are filled with big moments. Each huge win and breathtaking play can send powerful emotional reverberations rolling through passionate fanbases.

A savvy company in Washington, D.C. has come up with an ingenious business model for capitalizing on this fan fervor – and it uses T-shirts imprinted with clever, big-moment-defining designs and messaging to do it.

BreakingT provides what it calls “real-time sports merchandise.” Basically, the company designs, prints and sells T-shirts that memorialize major happenings in the sports world. It does so in instant, direct reaction to sports’ mega moments, in the immediate aftermath of their happening and while they are still trending torridly. This timeliness empowers BreakingT to tap into the passion and pride fans feel – passion and pride that compels people to purchase the just-created commemorative T-shirts.

“We don't have ‘spring collections’ and ‘fall collections’  at BreakingT; our launch schedule is 24/7/365 with new releases happening as fast as trends are breaking on social media,” the BreakingT team writes on its website.

Company President Jamie Mottram said recently that BreakingT puts great care into tracking social data to generate ideas in real-time, while also partnering with media brands to promote the shirts and share the revenue. “The best part about our jobs is going into work in the morning not knowing what products we're going to launch that day. Or those late night ‘holy sh*t did you see that play!?’ phone calls that have our designers up all night,” BreakingT states on its website. “It's definitely organized chaos around here, and it's a lot of fun.”

Certainly some fun, good-natured ribbing enlivens the tees. Take the shirt below. BreakingT created it to commemorate the Wisconsin Badgers’ victory over the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl on December 30. The shirt references the gold “Turnover Chain” Miami defensive players wore throughout the season upon generating turnovers. The cheese is an obvious reference to Wisconsin – and a dig at Miami, which the Badgers forced into several turnovers during the game. Essentially, the shirt says Wisconsin owned Miami on the turnover front and the scoreboard – something Badgers fans were bonkers about.

Another T-shirt released just after Monday’s Rose Bowl lets fans of the victorious Georgia Bulldogs yuck it up at the expense of the defeated Oklahoma Sooners and their quarterback, Baker Mayfield, who has a reputation for cockiness. The “Humble Yourself” on the tee is what Bulldogs linebacker Davin Bellamy told Mayfield after the game. 

While BreakingT has – and generates – a lot of fun, the company is also driving serious success, according Mottram. He wrote here for NiemanLab that BreakingT’s annual sales were higher than ever last year, and he’s forecasting double-digit growth for 2018. We think at least one thing is clear from BreakingT’s winning approach and sales success: Real-time, on-demand commerce models are only going to grow in significance, and everyone, including promo companies, must continue to adapt.