What Happens to the Losing Team's Championship Shirts?

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Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas/Landov

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After a Big Game in any sport, fans and players are going to be clamoring for commemorative merchandise, often just minutes after the game ends. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening "We’re #1" euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of t-shirts, hats and other merchandise, declaring each team the champ.

Based on strong sales after the Chicago Bears’ 2007 NFC Championship win, Sports Authority printed more than 15,000 shirts proclaiming a Bears Super Bowl victory well before the game even started. And then the Colts beat the Bears, 29-17.

World Vision

That’s a lot of misprinted shirts that can’t hit store shelves, and seem like fine candidates for the incinerator, instead. And for a long time, that’s where they went, with all four major American pro sports leagues — MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL — requiring the destruction of incorrect post-season apparel.

Fortunately, the leagues have changed the way they do things and now all four - plus manufacturers and retailers like Reebok, Sports Authority, Dick’s and Modell’s — instead give the gear to a group called World Vision, which saves the merch from certain doom and puts it to use.

World Vision

The international humanitarian aid group collects the unwanted items over the days following the game at their distribution center in Pittsburgh, then ships it overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families living in extreme poverty in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

World Vision

In 2011, after Pittsburgh lost to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers Super Bowl apparel went to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua and Romania.

World Vision

World Vision’s Sheryl Watkins says the organization doesn’t know where this year’s donated Broncos goods will go yet, but will likely include countries they’ve distributed gear to in the past. This includes Bosnia, El Salvador, Mongolia, Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, Romania, Uganda, Burundi, Mali, and Rwanda.

“After the good have been received and inventoried, we’ll let our offices around the world know what’s available,” Watkins says. “Those who have a need in their projects for particular items—sweatshirts in cold-weather countries, T-shirts in tropical ones—will make their requests, and we will ship them over the next year.”

World Vision

Of course, there are people right here in the U.S. who desperately need a fresh, clean t-shirt or jacket. Why not give it to them? Overseas distribution is part of the agreement between the leagues and World Vision. The leagues don’t want the donated items appearing on TV or popping up on eBay, so they get them out of the country. The farther away the clothing is, the less likely it is to offend a losing player (or heartbroken fan).

This story originally appeared in 2009.

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