Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
St. Paul, MN - Have you ever wondered how professional sports teams are able to turn around fresh jersey's for each free agent signed or each college player drafted? Me too, so earlier this week I took off down to the Xcel Energy Center for answers. What I found was an interesting behind the scenes world that has been right under our nose the entire time.
My curiosity was piqued during the 2014 NFL Draft when the television program showed a brief clip of a group behind the curtain preparing and pressing jersey's for players in the sixty seconds it took for them to hug their parents and walk to the stage to join Commissioner Goodell for a photo op. It continued last week when Thomas Vanek was introduced to the public a matter of minutes after signing his three-year $19.5M, emerging from the depths of 'The X' with a freshly pressed #26 Minnesota Wild jersey with Vanek displaying on the back name plate.
After making a few phone calls with the organization, I was introduced to Bill Berg, the Retail Marketing Coordinator for the Minnesota Wild. Bill heads up the department that supplies eight souvenir stands within the arena and two stand alone Hockey Lodge mall locations at Southdale Mall and Maplewood Mall. On top of supplying the stores with merchandise and game apparel, Berg and his team are the one's in charge of preparing and heat pressing the new jerseys for formal player introductions similar to Vanek's last week.
Deep within the bowels of Xcel Energy Center lies a stock room with rows and rows of Minnesota Wild merchandise. Hanging along the rafters there are hundreds of authentic game worn jerseys. Parise, Koivu, Walz, some even dating back to the team's inaugural season in 2000. Name plates of former players line the walls, serving as the stockroom's very own wall of honor. In the far corner or the warehouse, surrounded by racks of fresh Minnesota jerseys, the desks of Pam and Violet Kirk, the heat press operators for the team's retail department.
With two heavy duty heat presses and bins full of letters, numbers and name plates covering their works space, these are the tools of the trade that produce a majority of the Minnesota Wild jersey's you will see around town. The press itself, heats to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and applies 75-80 pounds of pressure to adhere the name plate and numbers to the backs of the replica jerseys. Game worn uniforms are stitched by the equipment team at a different location.
On a normal day, the Berg's team fulfills online orders placed at the StateOfHockeyStore.com and restocks supplies for each one of their points of sale shops around the arena and across the Twin Cities. During this time of year though, they are on call waiting. Waiting for a big name free agent to be signed. That's when the team jumps into action and the heat presses are working pretty much around the clock.
Remember back to 2012, Berg and Kirk vividly remember the day when it was announced on July 4th that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two of the biggest free agents on the market, were headed to Minnesota.
"Once it was officially announced in 2012, on the 4th of July, we had our on call staff come in and start making jerseys right away," Berg recalled. "That created a huge frenzy. We saw jersey sales that were just crazy, like things that we haven't ever seen before!"
Both agreed that the frenzy, while sustained by the success of the past two seasons, was re ignited last week when Vanek opted to jump on and join the Wild as well. In fact, Reebok, the NHL's official merchandise provider, has not been able to keep up with demand supplying the base uniform for fans desiring the newly introduced white road jersey sporting Vanek's newly claimed #26.
Looking towards future merchandising opportunities, Berg shared the team's desire to play off of fan input and trends around the league to test different products desirability. Admittedly though, both he and the team are chomping at the bit to land an outdoor game (Winter Classic or Stadium Series) and open the door for a wider line of outdoor merchandise that would seemingly be a perfect fit for hockey fans in Minnesota.
In the mean time, the entire current line of Minnesota Wild merchandise, including the fresh new Thomas Vanek jerseys (while supplies last), can be purchased at one of the three Hockey Lodge locations around town (Xcel Energy Center, Southdale Mall, Maplewood Mall) or online at StateOfHockeyStore.com.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Wild updates and breaking Wild news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN