LSU merchandise

Fans were able to purchase LSU championship merchandise on Tuesday morning, less than 10 hours after the Tigers won the national championship in college football.

We’re going to go out on a limb and predict the winner of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans.

It’s easy. The local sports apparel industry is poised to do its own end zone celebration if Patrick Mahomes is able to lead the Chiefs to the team’s first Super Bowl appearance since the Nixon administration. NFL apparel accounted for $3.3 billion in retail sales in 2018, according to figures from License Global’s annual survey, with an increased emphasis on tapping global markets.

But with a Super Bowl run, it’s the local market that really stands to benefit. If the Chiefs do advance, the fan frenzy provides an economic boost to bricks-and-mortar stores that are finally able to compete with the online marketplace in terms of speed and responsiveness.

In times like this, the apparel industry displays a degree of planning and logistical mastery that puts Andy Reid’s game plan to shame. In all the playoff markets, manufacturers and retailers position thousands of blank shirts, hoodies and hats prior to each postseason game. As teams are eliminated, local screen-printers are removed from the list until only two teams remain in each league.

For the Chiefs, they’ve already won, in a sense. At some point this week, a sealed box quietly arrives at the Rally House store with shirts that declare the Chiefs the AFC champions. Similar Titans gear will exist in a backroom in the Nashville area.

Even store employees are not allowed to peek until after the game, when the gear is put on display if the Chiefs win. “They keep a pretty tight lid on it,” said Rally House store manager Blakli Thompson.

The real work begins after the game. In the event of a Chiefs victory, another run of championship apparel will be printed overnight and shipped to local stores by Monday morning. “The Chiefs reaching the Super Bowl will be bigger than the Royals winning the World Series,” Thompson said. “It’s something that gives K.C. a ton of joy.”

What you see at local stores isn’t the real pinnacle of a business model that shifts into high gear. On the field, either Patrick Mahomes or Ryan Tannehill will be photographed immediately after Sunday’s game with shirts and hats that declare their team as the AFC champion.

Both teams get a batch, just in case. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to the apparel from the losing side, the league and retailers partner with nonprofit organizations to donate them to developing countries, according to a marketplace.org report.

That means there might be a child in Latin America or Africa walking around with a shirt that proclaims the Los Angeles Rams as the champions of Super Bowl LIII.

It’s for a good cause, but let’s hope all the Chiefs gear stays stateside.