The Carolina Hurricanes are the big story of the NHL right now. Their unstoppable offense has won them eight of their last ten games, they stand one point out of a wild-card spot, and their post-game “storm surge” celebrations are irrepressibly fun. But Coach’s Corner co-host Don Cherry didn’t think so when he called the team “a bunch of jerks” over the weekend. The team embraced the controversy, spinning it into a successful and winsome t-shirt campaign.
The “bunch of jerks” shirts were the brainchild of BreakingT, the “real-time” sports apparel company with deep local roots.
DC Sports fan Jamie Mottram, the President of BreakingT, has an eye for viral trends in sports. He contributed to AOL FanHouse, founded For The Win at USA Today, and writes Mr. Irrelevant, the influential early DC sports blog. So when Don Cherry called out the Hurricanes, Mottram took notice — though his primary attention was on the NBA All-Star Game.
“It was the three-point contest, and the dunk contest,” Mottram said. “Our team was very focused on that creatively because that was something, that was predictable. That was an event we knew that it was gonna be on February 16th for like the past several months so that’s what we were focused on.”
The winning Diallo Dunks. From all angles. pic.twitter.com/Et2W9n6cuH
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 17, 2019
But the Don Cherry tweets kept distracting the BreakingT team, and one of the designers said they’d reach out to the Hurricanes the next day about making a shirt.
The Hurricanes had the same idea, and Dan Latorraca and Mike Forman from the Canes reached out themselves around midnight with the request. “Later that night after the dunk contest, after we already kind of finished doing our work on the NBA stuff, I got an email from the Canes,” Mottram said. “It was like ‘hey, Don Cherry called us ‘a bunch of jerks’ and we want to make a shirt about it. But here’s the catch, it has to be in our team store by the next game on Tuesday night. Can you make it happen?’ And of course, our answer was yes.”
The fact that the Canes reached out directly meant a lot to Mottram.
“They can’t go rogue and say ‘we’re doing shirts,'” he said. “They have to have the support of management. They have to have the trust of management to be able to do stuff like this that the fan base is gonna love, the players probably love it too, and it’s going to be successful for their business.”
The Canes and BreakingT had worked together previously to create their Storm Surge t-shirts, so the working relationship helped when devising a game plan for the new design over a holiday weekend.
While the details were sparse on what the t-shirt would look like, there were a few directives Latorraca and Forman gave the BreakingT designer.
“They knew that they wanted the shirt to say ‘bunch of jerks,'” Mottram said. “They said ‘whatever you do, give us some things, we want to be able to make a choice, so send us a bunch of versions.'”
One of BreakingT’s freelance designers began working on ten different designs on Sunday. Once the drafts were complete, the Canes selected the one design they liked the most.
“It didn’t take them long to zero in on the one that they wanted,” Mottram said, “They chose that one and it was on Twitter almost immediately.”
The design was shared by the Hurricanes Twitter, and that was the moment Mottram knew they had a winner.
“We were getting viral alerts for our own shirt and those alerts were for engagement metrics that were like beyond,” Mottram said. “They were bigger than anything else that was happening in hockey.”
The jerk store called…we are now taking orders!
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 17, 2019
After settling on a design, BreakingT’s normal operating procedure is to handle the printing at their DC printing location and do fulfillment themselves.
But due to Presidents’ Day, their own printing location was closed on Monday when they would typically print the shirts.
For their online orders, the physical shirt didn’t need to be printed yet. “We don’t have to have them printed before they’re online and being sold,” Mottram said “In fact, as we’re speaking right now (Monday) they aren’t even printed yet.”
To cope with the holiday and the deadline of Tuesday night’s game, BreakingT coordinated with a local screen printer in Raleigh that they and the Canes had worked with previously to get the shirts into the team store, The Eye, Tuesday night.
The wait is over.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 19, 2019
“A lot of those shirts that are printed for the arena for Tuesday will be used to fulfill online sales,” Mottram said.
The shirt is currently sold out on BreakingT’s website. “This will be the highest selling hockey shirt that we’ve ever sold,” Mottram said. “This one has just really taken off in a way that we could not have expected.”
Ironically, the Hurricanes shirt replaces a Capitals t-shirt, dubbed the ‘fight for all D.C.,’ to symbolize Tom Wilson’s fight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As for advice for other teams, Mottram keeps it simple. “You never know when your Don Cherry moment is gonna happen,” he said. “Something is going to happen at some point where everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s fired up about it, everyone wants a t-shirt about it, and you don’t want to have to figure it out in the moment.”
Ready to be sold … pic.twitter.com/jhgcASHZWR
— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) February 19, 2019
Headline photo: @NHLCanes
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