Just-in-Time Manufacturing & the Super Bowl

Green Bay Packers fans are no doubt sporting hats, t-shirts, and other Super Bowl XLV memorabilia today thanks to just-in-time manufacturing.

I researched the t-shirt supply chain back in 2007 when the Red Sox won the World Series. Boston fans could buy Red Sox world champion gear as early as 6 a.m. the day after the four-game series ended around 10 p.m. EST. Since any series involving the Red Sox are automatically nail-biters, I was curious just how t-shirt manufacturers knew the Sox would win. Turns out, it's “just-in-time” or JIT.

Here's how it works: All NFL, NBA, and MLB logos are licensed through their respective leagues to a few major vendors that are allowed to use these logos. Those vendors, in turn, partner with smaller t-shirt or hat manufacturers in league markets. During a normal season, the big vendors parcel out enough business to the local manufacturers to make it worth their while.

All of these producers have unfinished inventory — most of it made in China — sitting somewhere near their local markets.

In the case of the World Series, around Game 4, manufacturers in the local markets start gearing up for anticipated demand. The big licensed manufacturers, in the meantime, have prepared two designs — one each declaring the competing teams the World Champs. A limited number of both of these designs are pre-printed on gear to distribute in the winning locker rooms after the last game.

At the conclusion of the final game, the design for the winning team is sent electronically to the local vendors that quickly develop, say, the screens to print the t-shirts. A major production run starts immediately. Shirts, hats, and other memorabilia are then shipped to local distribution centers and parceled out to the local outlets. It's probably one of the best implementations of JIT I can imagine.

As for any excess inventory with the wrong (dare I say “losing”?) logo, those goods are actually donated to areas — usually foreign countries — where people really don't care who won the Series or the Super Bowl.

This system would have come in handy during the 1948 presidential election election when Chicago newspaper headlines declared: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

(For the record, I began a similar “Patriots Trounce Giants” blog just before Super Bowl XLII. Thank goodness for the Internet.)

12 comments on “Just-in-Time Manufacturing & the Super Bowl

  1. Eldredge
    February 7, 2011

    This is an excellent example of JIT manufacturing, and it is amazing how quickly the manufacturing and distribution system can get these products on the shelves. This scenerio benefits from the focused set of products, large volume to produce, and widespread distributoin of the same set of products.

    Any thoughts on similarities / differences to implementation of JIT concepts in the electronics industry?

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 7, 2011

    I think the t-shirts are a whole lot easier since it's a fairly linear supply chain. An electronics bill of material can include hundreds of different components, all from different suppliers. Plus, nothing is determined by a win or a loss–too easy–I think you have to fly completely on faith and hope your end product is a winner

  3. AnalyzeThis
    February 7, 2011

    Right, the JIT whipping up of t-shirts is far, far easier than pumping out cell phones or cars.

    T-shirts also tend to be fairly cheap to produce and in the case of Championship sports shirts, there's a huge profit margin here because people will pay a large premium to get them immediately. I'm sure when the Red Sox won some fans in Boston had no issues shelling out $20-$30 for a $3 shirt.

    Also, in the case of the Red Sox, I would nearly guarantee that you had people churning their t-shirts presses early in order to meet demand.

    And as you mention, even with the relative ease of JIT “manufacturing” t-shirts, there is still waste and excess t-shirts have to get donated to charity. That's not really a big deal when you're dealing with t-shirts, but if a JIT process applied to an electronic component resulted in, say, a 30% increase in defects… that cost would likely offset any benefit provided by JIT.

    Don't get me wrong, JIT certainly has its place… but in tech? Not so much.

  4. Jay_Bond
    February 7, 2011

    I was amazed when the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years in 1997, and the next morning I was able to buy a Champion locker room ball cap. I know I over paid that morning, but it was worth it. I always wondered how they got the hats so quickly. Then the store owner informed me of JIT. He told me how they have a stock pile of these blank hats, and the minute the game was over the companies ironed on the team’s logos.

    Of course fast forward 14 years and things are done even smoother now. This works great with hats and t-shirts but would be a little tough to do with more intricate items. JIT is a great thing that benefits many companies and many fans. Even though we end up paying much more than these items are worth. 

  5. Laurie Sullivan
    February 8, 2011

    Forget about the hats and the t-shirts for a moment and focus on the BMW's Super Bowl commercial that touted the company's $1 billion investment in American manufacturing. Voices of the company's employees at its manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina told the story. The ad shows BMW as a significant contributor to the American economy and a vital part of the manufacturing industry in the U.S.

  6. Anand
    February 8, 2011

    Nicely written article. Clearly tells the jist of the JIT.

    But When we say Just In TIme , what time frame are we looking at ? Is it like one day as described in the article or it can be more than that ? Can we say the release of product just couple of days ahead of competitors product as JIT ?

  7. Eldredge
    February 8, 2011

    I believe JIT typically means that the receipt of components and raw materials to manufacture a product occurs ideally just before the manufacturer needs to consume them in production, significantly reducing inventory. The more componentrs and raw materials used, the more difficult this is to implement. But the timeframe that it takes to make the components or raw materials, be it a day or a week or a month, doesn't matter, as long as one can schedule it's delivery 'Just-in-Time” to be consumed.

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 8, 2011

    Eldredge's explanation is pretty much JIT. I think the “time” part of it is realtive–the turnaround time for a finished product can be days, weeks or even months from the time an order is placed–at least in electronics–even though everthing is delivered to the factory floor just in time for consumption. A typical electronics product passes through dozens of processes and possible several factories before it is complete, and each may practive JIT.

    Dell utilizes the BTO or build-to-order process in which computers and peripherals are assembled to a customer's specs right before the order is shipped out. Same concept as JIT but a little bit farther down the supply chian.


  9. Ariella
    February 8, 2011

    When the Jets still had a crack at being in the running, the owner of Modell's mobilized forces to be ready to sell Jets gear in every Modell's location in New York. He planned on importing employees from no less than nine neighboring states to be able to serve the deluge of customers he anticipated.  He disclosed all this is a radio interview.  The interviewer said he admired his optimism, but what would he do if the Jets for some reason did not win.  In that case, he said the clothes would be sent to third world countries, though he would first need clearance from the licensing brands.  So this spring there should quite a number of people in those places wearing green.  It seems you still have to take a chance on inventory. In this case, Mr. Modell bet on the Jets beating the Steelers in the Championship game and lost.

  10. Tim Votapka
    February 8, 2011

    Great background on the JIT in sports memorabilia. Answers a few questions I had on that myself, but one – who's responsible for getting the chilled champagne out of the losing team's club house?

  11. Mr. Roques
    February 11, 2011

    Or more importantly, where do they take it?

    I also really appreciated the info on how it works behind stage. I imagined they had the logo ready since day-1.

    Football is a little different in the sense that it's one game only (unlike baseball where it's best out of 9, etc.). That provides additional complications (in baseball, if your team is 0-3, you wouldn't be in any hurry – right BoSox?)

  12. Mr. Roques
    February 11, 2011

    Additionally, do you have any idea of how a baseball franchise stands next to a NFL one? – regarding marketing, et al.

    I assume the Yankees are in a league of their own, but beyond them… is there much difference?

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