'The Warrior' turns fans into their own NFL-licensed product

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DALLAS -- The Pangea toasters, introduced in the last year, might be enough to tip even the most tchotchke-averse fan into must-have territory. A mere $50 buys the ability to toast the word "Steelers" into every slice. Or the Packers logo, if you're so inclined.

But why just make your own NFL friendly food? You, too, could become an official product of the league.

"For $139.99, you can become an NFL-licensed product and collectible," said Mike Denton, director of e-commerce for Facility Merchandising Inc., the Woodland Hills, Calif., company that has been running official NFL Super Bowl shops for more than 20 years.

The company, headed by Scott native Milt Arenson, has a 30,000-square-foot store selling all things NFL at the NFL Experience, a sort of fan festival at the Dallas Convention Center.

At two booths set up by iAM 3D, fans can have their pictures taken with technology used in video games and have their heads turned into 4-inch high statuettes wearing their favorite team's colors. The product is called. "The Warrior."

"This is drawing a lot of attention," Denton said. "We're getting people in here just for this."

It's not as though the store needs to go trolling for customers, seeing as how it is conveniently located where fans exit the NFL Experience exhibits.

The league had been projecting that 250,000 people would come through the NFL Experience this year. Even if that number drops as a result of the treacherous weather that froze North Texas this week, Denton said an estimated 70 to 80 percent of those who come are expected to check out the store.

At Cowboys Stadium, FMI has taken over the two-level team store and put most of the same 200,000 different pieces of merchandise out for customers. In addition, there are as many as 30 smaller shops scattered around the concourses and through the stadium. More than 100,000 people are expected at the game and, again, the vast majority are expected to swing by one of the shops.

Just like everything else around the Super Bowl, it is a big-league operation. There are 26 registers set up in the checkout area at the NFL Experience store alone, and many of the cashiers hired to run them are members of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Texas, Arlington.

The strategy here is to give people as much "stadium exclusive" merchandise as possible so they will have something that those who didn't make it to North Texas don't. Of course, the company also sells some of that exclusive merchandise at stadiumcollection.com.

FMI and the NFL are trying concept shops for the first time this year, sort of stores-within-the-store setups that vendors had to bid on. In addition to the iAM 3D shop, there is a full, working kitchen display area where the logo-branding toasters are flanked by shot glasses, logo-adorned straws and clocks.

Victoria's Secret became a NFL licensee last year and has set up a heavily pink section featuring $35 T-shirts that say things such as "Pink loves the Steelers" and "Pink loves the Packers."

Denton said business surpassed expectations last weekend -- before the ice storm -- and his theory is that many of those customers were from the region. Sales of Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams gear have been good.

The best-selling merchandise has been the stuff with logos from both Super Bowl teams, such as hats in the $30 to $40 range that show both the Steelers and Packers logos.

The store started with 2,500 special Super Bowl XLV patches available to put on $120 player jerseys -- the staff does it in the back with heat-and-seal equipment -- and those aren't sealed on too far ahead, so there's room to adapt to what the shoppers want.

At the moment, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is outselling Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. On the Steelers side, safety Troy Polamalu is ahead of the rest of his team "by far," Denton said.

This weekend will mark the busy season for this very short-term retail operation. The aisles are wide, but, if the crush hits as expected, it won't matter.

"On Saturday, you won't be able to walk in here," he predicted.


Teresa Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.


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