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.)