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New Partnership Provides Experimental Approach for Aramark

The potential innovation in Aramark’s retail partnership with the AAF is a point of excitement for the concessionaire’s executives.

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Photo credit: Aramark

The potential innovation in Aramark’s retail partnership with the Alliance of American Football is a point of excitement for the concessionaire’s executives.

As the new football league kicks off its inaugural season this weekend with games in Orlando, San Antonio, Phoenix and Birmingham, an expansive array of retail merchandise will be on display, said Danielle Lazor, vice president of West region and national retail operations for Aramark’s sports and entertainment division.

The first games feature San Diego at San Antonio and Atlanta at Orlando, airing at 8 p.m. Saturday on CBS. The league-wide retail partnership was announced at the end of January, as Aramark will handle merchandising in all eight stadiums and ecommerce retail for the league. 

“We understand the importance of providing seamless, enjoyable shopping experiences for fans, especially during the historic, inaugural season, and are committed to delivering that for the Alliance,” said Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark’s sports and entertainment division.

READ MORE: Meet the New Creative Team for the Alliance of American Football

Discussions had been ongoing for some time, Lazor said, but the details came together rather quickly when it mattered most. The ecommerce retail sales have been active and better than anticipated, Lazor said.

“It has really exceeded our expectations and absolutely done a lot better,” she said. “There’s a lot of engagement, and the fan bases are building before our eyes.”

Lazor couldn’t speak to specific retail activations at the time, but said to expect some “fun things in the works” with the AAF.

“We’ll see them announced some activations in venues around merchandise soon,” she said. “The product line speaks for itself from a quality and fan perspective.”

Aramark has a long track record in retail operations, particularly around special events, with organizations like the National Football League and U.S. Tennis Association. Lazor said this deal is a bit special because of the league ownership of all eight teams.

The league’s aggressive technology commitment can provide Aramark further innovation on the retail side within the partnership.

“Innovation is at the forefront of what they do; it’s starting up and there’s a lot of work to do,” she said. “But innovation is built into the culture of the organization and it allows us to do something different from the product side. That will be ever-evolving as the teams and fan bases grow, but it’s a cornerstone to the partnership.”

READ MORE: Las Vegas Plays Large Role in the Alliance of American Football’s Future

Also along the lines of technological strategies for the AAF include free livestreams of the week’s games on the league’s app, as well as a robust option of integrated gaming options with real rewards. On the player side of the league, AAF offers a large bonus system and comprehensive post-football career planning.

The AAF was started by Charlie Ebersol and football Hall of Famer Bill Polian. The 10-week season will conclude with a championship weekend April 26-28 in Las Vegas.

Ebersol said in 2018 the league will feature high-quality football while also pushing the innovation in how sports leagues operate. The league’s partnership with Aramark is no different.

“We strive to continually provide fans with innovative and seamless opportunities to connect with the game, teams and players they love, and our partnership with Aramark is one way to achieve this goal,” said Ebersol, also the AAF’s CEO. “Aramark is a proven leader in the space, catering to millions of sports fans across major professional leagues and teams. By bringing on this best-in-class partner, we can drive innovation both on-site and at-home, elevating the fan experience, streamlining operations and driving sales.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Commerce

Nike Turns App Into Store With First SNKRS Pop-Up in Atlanta

Nike’s Super Bowl strategy includes a unique sneaker experience through the SNKRS app and a “Studio of Dreams” customization hub.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo via Nike

Nike’s SNKRS app shines in the digital sneaker marketplace. So now it’s time to enter the real world.

On January 26, Nike opened Super Bowl Week in Atlanta with the first-ever SNKRS pop-up experience. The concept is simple for SNKRS users: Scroll through the app for the shoe you want, buy it, watch the shoebox get pulled through a transparent wall and take the kicks from a bottom compartment.

Then walk out the door with everything already digitally paid for.

Like the app version, the SNKRS pop-up — which will remain open through Air Max Day on March 26, long after the Patriots or Rams lift the Lombardi Trophy — will constantly be changing inventory. Pairs that may be sold out on Nike.com or the SNKRS app can show up at the SNKRS pop-up. New releases, throwback kicks, anything is fair game. Of course, Atlanta-specific sneakers are making appearances as well.

Mirroring the app, an in-store digital ticker also keeps shoppers updated like the “SportsCenter” bottom line. The LED screen tells customers which shoes are new releases, which are low in inventory, which are sold out, etcetera.

READ MORE: Super Bowl Presents Major Opportunity for Pizza Hut

In a way, the SNKRS app is a middle-ground between traditional retail and online shopping.

“I think there’s always still some nostalgia of going in and picking out shoes and touching them and seeing them,” said Josh Benedek, Nike North America media relations director. “We’ve taken all the heavy lifting out of that. All your preferences, all your credit card payments, everything like that is already set up on your phone. You can just come here and do what you like to do, which is the fun part, looking at shoes. It makes that purchasing much easier.”

For Super Bowl week, inventory leans toward “high-heat” shoes and more general models to cater to the masses of tourists. However, after New England and Los Angeles fans leave town, Atlantans should expect even more designs geared toward the city. For the hardcore, sneakerheads, SNKRS Pass is available to those in a 25-mile radius and shock drops keep customers surprised in-store.

Oh, and don’t worry, if you want to try specific sizes, a rep can help with that. And if you don’t have the SNKRS app, you can pay in-person. But that’s not the point of the pop-up.

While SNKRS is at 711 10th Street NW, across the street, at 760 10th Street NW, Nike has rented out the Westside Cultural Arts Center for Super Bowl week. Rebranded as the “Nike Studio of Dreams,” the appointment-only space features various opportunities of creation. A customization bar allows fans to design their own football jerseys, t-shirts and sweatshirts using a design palette featuring work from local Atlanta artists Dr. Dax, FRKO, SNAX Ink and Zipporah Peay.

Nike has also partnered with Cam Kirk Studios to give fans the opportunity to see the world through the Atlanta-based artist’s mind. Kirk, a 29-year-old Morehouse College grad, has photographed Young Jeezy, 2 Chains, T.I., Schoolboy Q, Gucci Mane and Metro Boomin, among others. Visitors at the Nike Studio of Dreams can experience the same theme.

“Our Studio of Dreams Space is kind of a take off JDI (“Just Do It”), which we just celebrated our 30th anniversary of,” Benedek said. “We are empowering the consumer to reach their crazy dreams and create content. This space here allows them to be able to access content that they couldn’t before.”

In the three days leading up to the Super Bowl, the Studio of Dreams will host three “Just Do It” talks with athletes and creators. Travis Kelce, Russell Wilson and Victor Cruz will be among those sitting on panels.

And then there’s the talk that should make people emotional.

READ MORE: Natty Light’s Super Bowl Moment

“We have Deshaun Watson and Warrick Dunn, and a lot of people don’t know that Warrick Dunn, through Habitat for Humanity, helped build Deshaun Watson a house,” Benedek said.

It’s true. About 12 years ago, Dunn — who played with the Falcons for six of his 12 NFL seasons — presented Watson and his family with a fully-refurbished home. Watson and Dunn’s conversation on creation will likely go beyond sneakers and apparel.

Rounding out Nike’s Super Bowl initiatives, the brand has partnered with YouTube to bring in a green screen at the Studio of Dreams. The makeshift set will be used to help Nike athletes sharpen their craft in generating custom content. Nike is also fusing with A Ma Maniere, a locally-based luxury apparel and footwear boutique, for the week, crafting crossover merchandise at A Ma Maniere’s Atlanta location and the Studio of Dreams.

The Super Bowl provides brands like Nike a unique opportunity to connect with customers in exclusive, in-person manner. For Super Bowl LIII, the setting is Atlanta. And for Nike, that means an emphasis on exclusive sneakers and custom apparel.

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Swet Tailor Success Buoyed By Modern Athlete’s Fashion Preferences

The brand’s ability to connect with today’s most well-known athletes has led to more investment opportunities to market towards the everyday fan.

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The modern-day professional athlete is more business and culturally savvy than ever before. Everyday, both the athlete and his or her representation are approached by brands hoping the athlete will “buy in,” allowing the product to become the “next big thing.”

Unfortunately, many brands fail to meet the expectations and desires of the modern-day athlete. Whether it is a lack of personal connection, poor product quality, or not relating to the athlete’s desired audience, many brands simply fall by the wayside in an already diluted market because they are not able to separate themselves from the rest.

So how does a brand flourish by aligning themselves with future NFL stars and Super Bowl champions? By being authentic, passionate, and taking advantage of the moment.

Swet Tailor is quickly becoming a favorite amongst many locker rooms throughout the NFL. The brand’s ability to hone in on its organic connection to its fanbase dates back to when the company was first established.

READ MORE: Inside the NFL’s New Partnership With ‘Fortnite’

Swet Tailor initially started out as a campaign on Kickstarter back in July 2014. At the time, Adam Bolden was consulting for brands out in Los Angeles. Bolden reached out to the two founders, offering to help.

“It turns out I went to college with one of the founders and I was close to his older brother,” said Bolden. “They reached back out and we started working together.”

Over the next few months, Bolden helped to custom engineer the fabrication of the clothing, develop the pattern, and help put the entire business together ultimately assisting the team with fulfilling the Kickstarter campaign by November 2014.

By April 2015, Bolden had bought in a third of the partnership with the rest of the ownership group comprised of Bolden’s former colleague, David Kranz who carried over 20 years of experience within the apparel industry, and one of the remaining original founders. And with Bolden and Kranz buying out the remaining founder in July 2015, Swet Tailor was ready to take its business to the next level.

With Bolden serving as CEO and Kranz as CMO, the duo took out a $250,000 line of credit to expand their scope of business. By 2015, Swet Tailor did $99,000 in business. In 2016, it reached $270,000. In 2017, it accumulated over $1,000,000 in sales. Bolden attributed the success to recognizing the importance of what the customer is asking for.

“We take feedback to heart,” said Bolden. “We ask customers directly about their style and color-scheme preferences. We aren’t stabbing in the dark. We are directly tackling customers’ wants and needs.”

Swet Tailor is designed for sports fans of all shapes and sizes. The custom tailoring allows for specific sizing as well as personalized styles. With joggers, polos, chino shorts, stretch shorts, hoodies, pullover sweatshirts, knits, and more, Swet Tailor holds true to its #EveryDayEveryWear campaign as the company has a full assortment of options to appeal to those looking to enhance their current wardrobe.

“We don’t define ourselves as an athleisure clothing company,” says Bolden. “Instead, we are elevating what ‘casual look’ is today. Our brand can be worn to your kids’ soccer game, lounging on the couch, running errands, and everything in between. We are making clothes that move with you, not against you.”

So with the brand being positioned as a premium lifestyle clothing choice, how did the clothing wind up being adorned on the NFL elite? A little bit of luck and a lot of sports passion.

Harken back to this past Super Bowl, on February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Bolden, who is a graduate of the University of Arizona Wildcats and a huge Philadelphia fan, was wearing the college jersey of another former Wildcat, Nick Foles. With Foles’ publicity rising each week after taking over for the injured Carson Wentz towards the end of the season, it was safe to say that not many fans were wearing Foles’ jersey that day — and few to none were sporting the same uniform that he wore in college.

“Everyone in my section thought I was a Patriots fan since the jersey was red,” said Bolden. “I had to correct fellow Eagles fans that I was rooting for the same team as they were.”

Fast forward two weeks later. Bolden’s wife’s previous employer, a PR agency, was contacted by Athlete’s First, the sports agency who represents Foles. They were inquiring about dressing Foles for his upcoming appearance onJimmy Kimmel Live.”

“Athletes First was looking for clothing for Nick, and my wife’s team also inquired about including some Swet Tailor apparel for Nick to try on as well. So, when they asked me if I wanted to dress Nick Foles for the show, I said yes without batting an eyelash.”

Bolden then put together an entire collection of Swet Tailor clothing together, customized just for Foles. Included in the collection was a handwritten letter outlining their mutual connection to the University of Arizona and Bolden’s dedication to the team through attending all of the team’s playoff games. Bolden also included photos of himself repping Foles’ college jersey at the Super Bowl.

“I get a letter back from Foles telling me how much he loves the clothes I sent,” said Bolden. “Very soon after, he invited me to his house down in Newport. While I went down to grab his measurements for the suit we were making, we struck up a really nice friendship.”

Swet Tailor has not yet made suits available for the mass marketplace. Yet, the brand has created dabbled in creating customized suits for athletes in order to help further showcase what the company has to offer.

Shortly after his “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance, Foles shared additional samples of Swet Tailor apparel throughout the Eagles’ locker room. Foles’ teammates loved the clothes and wanted to find out where they could obtain more. Soon, Wentz, Zach Ertz, current quarterbacks coach Press Taylor and many other Eagles were embracing the brand and showcasing it in everyday life.

“It was the most amazing thing,” said Bolden. “Players started giving clothes to other players who then gave them to coaches. It is like it has become the ‘unofficial official’ clothing at the practice facilities when the players are not playing.”

In addition to Foles, Athletes First also represented other Eagles players. The sports agency had received word of the growing popularity of the brand within the Eagles’ organization. Soon, Bolden was taking meetings with the agency to help get more product into the hands of the players.

“Our team at Swet Tailor has built a very organic relationship with Athletes First,” said Bolden. “It is interesting because they said they have never received feedback from their clients like this who want to be a part of a brand. Usually it’s the other way around and it’s the brand trying to get the product into the sports agency, hoping they’re going to give it to their players.”

Through Athletes First, Bolden was introduced to Mark Sanchez. The two ended up meeting and playing a round of golf together. After gifting Sanchez a pair of Swet Tailor’s Chino shorts to wear, the quarterback wrote back a couple weeks later asking how he can become involved in the company.

In November 2018, Sanchez, now a member of the Washington Redskins, invested in Swet Tailor alongside others as part of a $1.5 million first round of seed funding headed by Burch Creative Capital. Other interested investors include two prominent NFL quarterbacks to be announced as early as 2019.

“I believe that Swet Tailor is a brand that can address a wide variety of unique opportunities in today’s world of men’s fashion,” said Sanchez. “As a professional athlete I have seen men’s fashion trends come and go, and realize that no matter who you are, you want to look good and feel comfortable. The timeless style and unrivaled comfort make Swet Tailor an attractive brand. I am always looking for great investment opportunities with companies I can relate to, and this was literally a great fit.”

With more funds to maneuver with, Bolden envisions three additional product lines to expand into: men’s big and tall fashion, an integrated suit line, and the launching of products specifically geared towards women.

For the big and tall branding, which is currently being labeled in the early stages as Swet Tailor’s “High and Mighty” line, Bolden looks to target an often overlooked segment of the population.

“For many who are overweight in this country, it is hard to find clothing that properly fits them especially for those who are taller too,” said Bolden. “We are going to take care of these people. We are looking into certain NFL players that we have been in talks with to help us launch this once we have enough resources in hand.”

The potential suit line will align with Swet Tailor’s current strategy of utilizing material that moves with you, not against you. It will allow customers to easily utilize it on-the-go.

READ MORE: Traditional Professional Athletes Could Soon See More Opportunities With Gaming Companies

“It’ll look like a woven but it’s the kind of fabric that you can roll up into a ball, throw into your suitcase and still put on after a few minutes,” said Bolden. “With this product, you won’t feel the same restrictions as you do with a typical blazer.”

As for the women’s line, Suit Tailor’s decision-making team already feels confident it can handle this venture due to the experience carried by the marketing and investment team.

“Both our CMO David [Kranz] and our lead investor, Chris Burch, have hands-on knowledge and history with apparel and accessories, specifically within the women’s industry. We have terrific strategic advisory and we have big plans with our marketing initiatives.”

With Swet Tailor entrenched within the fashion preferences of the NFL, the brand has high hopes for its future and its ability to gain traction with more players interested in their product. In appealing to the players that so many fans embrace throughout the season, Swet Tailor will continue to provide a perfect fit for those interested in elevating their fashion to the next level.

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Overtime’s Pop-Up Showcases Commerce Potential for Digital Brands

Selling merchandise hasn’t been the primary goal for Overtime, but the pop-up shop became another way for the company to connect with its community.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: Overtime

In a three-day event that fused hoops, apparel and art, Overtime expanded its merchandise repertoire with The Pull Up: Overtime Basketball Pop-Up, offering fans a chance to purchase Overtime gear in a retail setting.

Attendees also had the opportunity to meet special guests, win prizes and check out work from industry-leading photographers and artists.

“Of all the sports that people enjoy, basketball is the one right now that’s really leading culture and has the most association with music and sneakers,” said Overtime founder and CEO Dan Porter. “We wanted to go back into that sense of New York street courts and that celebration of basketball. We love hoops — it’s part of who we are.”

The event was held at 368 Broadway in New York and introduced brand-new merchandise, featuring collaborations with sports personality Rachel DeMita, sneaker artist Sierato, and Japanese streetwear brand Suicoke. Featured photographers included Cassy Athena, Nicole Sweet, Michael Eng, Cameron Look, Dontae Putmon, Johnnie Izquierdo and Nia Simone.

Overtime joins brands like Barstool Sports, Bleacher Report and The Ringer as sports companies that have embraced merchandise as a new revenue stream, which stems from a shift in the mindset of the modern sports fan, according to Porter.

READ MORE: Overtime: A Sports Network for the Next Generation 

“The way I think about it — because I’m not a millennial or Gen Z — I come from a world growing up of very hard borders and lines, so as soon as whistle blows it wasn’t sports anymore,” Porter said. “But you look at the NBA now, and they’re showing people walk into the tunnel like a fashion show. Our audience is more expansive than it ever was, so they’re not thinking about it like culture and basketball. It’s just, ‘This is dope stuff I enjoy,’ and it all feels the same to them.”

Selling merchandise hasn’t been Overtime’s primary goal, however. Rather, Porter introduced the idea for the pop-up shop as another way to connect with the community.

“For us, it’s not just about commerce and apparel and merchandise,” he said. “It’s about pushing these activities and interacting with our fans IRL.”

Porter’s vision for the pop-up was brought to life by director of commerce Daniel Ortiz and design director Tishon Woolcock.

“It’s really an effort to bring our brand to life and make sure that what we reflect in our voice and our channels and our community, that it’s very apparent here,” Ortiz said. “It all just came together in the end, and it’s so great to see people coming in and being able to appreciate the space the moment they walk in, and being able to see our content and see everything tied together.”

The unique elements of the pop-up were created with a specific purpose in mind, according to Ortiz.

“Every single detail that you see here, whether it’s the mural that depicts basketball players, to our merch display that’s designed to look like a basketball locker room, to the neon hoop — basically, every single aspect of it is really reflecting the culture of basketball,” he said.

The overall vibe played into to a sense of relatability, something that Overtime has strived to create since its beginning.

“The reactions that we’ve been getting — people coming from all over the place, coming in and getting to interact with our people — you really get a sense, in person, of how strong of a community it is,” Ortiz said. “It’s that kind of vibe. We’re not intimidating… We always say that we want every kid to feel like they can be on Overtime, and I think we’ve accomplished that with this space, that they can come in and just be a part of our environment.”

That feeling of familiarity has cultivated a dedicated following, according to Ortiz.

“Kids don’t want to wear just anything,” he said. “Our audience wants to represent Overtime, and that’s what it comes down to. I think that speaks a lot to the brand, and it speaks a lot to what our audience values and what they are looking for in a brand. It comes down to authenticity, and it comes down to community.”

“People like that they can participate, and they might be featured, so for us, it wasn’t like we thought, ‘We should get into commerce,’” Porter added. “It was more like we started making stuff, and athletes were wearing it, and kids were asking for it. It felt native and organic. For the first year we made merchandise, we didn’t even sell it. That created a demand, and we ended up having a big collection, so it’s fun to give people a chance to buy it.”

Beyond the merchandise, the event included a wall of photography featuring an array of basketball players, from NBA stars to kids in the Philippines. In curating the design, Woolcock placed a particular emphasis on Overtime’s roots.

“The fact that we started in the basketball community, in the New York City basketball scene — it was really important for us to celebrate that and highlight that,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to work with photographers who have relationships with the players. That’s how you get to tell the stories of the players and not just focus on their stats and that stuff, because they’re people too.”

He achieved that sense of storytelling by selecting art and photography that highlighted players off the court.

“Yeah, it’s about the game, it’s about the score, but there are people behind all that, you know?” Woolcock said. “That’s what’s important to us as a company, is to really celebrate that.”

In order to promote the event, Overtime focused its efforts on social media, but took advantage of some more old-school methods, as well.

“Social media has been the most effective channel for us, and we’ve been true to that, but we’ve also done the traditional passing out flyers, and testing out different ways of promoting,” Ortiz said. “When you’re testing out things like this for the first time, you have to do things differently, but also use the channels that have always worked. We’ve done everything.”

The shop featured appearances from some of Overtime’s biggest names, like Laurence Marsach (known as Overtime Larry) and DeMita, both of whom helped in promoting the event.

READ MORE: How Laurence Marsach Became Overtime’s Star Personality

“We made flyers, and I was going to different high schools, passing them out,” Marsach said. “I was just going around the block, out to Times Square, like, ‘Yo, you’ve got to pull up to the pop-up shop.’

“It’s beautiful, it’s amazing, it’s aesthetically really cool,” he added. “It’s a good vibe overall, and I know people are appreciating it.”

The open layout of the space lent itself to socializing, while artwork and Overtime-branded backdrops provided fans with photo opportunities.

“It’s cool to see the whole community come together, and obviously the fans being here is really fun,” said DeMita. “You don’t always get to meet your fans in a casual environment, so it’s super fun.”

The environment may have felt laid-back, but the pop-up shop was no small production. From in-house custom sneaker designs by Sierato, to an invite-only “Fortnite” tournament, to an appearance by NBA player Danny Green, Overtime’s first foray into the retail pop-up realm was a substantial undertaking.

“We’re in the go-big-or-go-home business,” Porter said. “It’s big, it’s a risk, and it’s exciting.”

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