North Carolina Company to Herald Super Bowl Champion

Whether it's St. Louis or New England, a Greensboro apparel company will be ready to help Sunday's Super Bowl winner celebrate.

VF Corp.'s activewear division is licensed to print T-shirts, short-sleeve knit shirts and long-sleeve denim shirts declaring the Rams or the Patriots the NFL champions. The company also has the locker-room rights for T-shirts, meaning those worn by winning players getting doused with champagne will be made by VF.

VF already has printed about 120 shirts each for the Patriots or Rams to wear during the celebrations. The losers' shirts will be destroyed, the company says.

After the game, VF will send a team of 20 workers to either St. Louis or Boston to supervise production of shirts. Retailers in the winning city are expected to have the shirts on shelves by early Monday.

Planning has been in the works for weeks.

"There are a lot of pieces that have to fit together," said company spokeswoman Holly Stewart.

VF's sports licensing unit, based in Tampa, Fla., accounts for a small part of the company's $5.7 billion in annual sales. The company declined to release sports-licensing sales figures.

VF also has produced T-shirts for the Rose Bowl and holds apparel licenses for all four major team sports, most major colleges and several NASCAR drivers.

The company -- known for its Lee and Wrangler jeans, intimate apparel and backpacks -- sees licensed sports apparel as a growing and profitable niche market.

The unit survived VF's restructuring, announced in November, in which the company said it would lay off 13,000 workers and exit other parts of its knitwear business. It has continued to thrive against competitors such as Nike and Reebok.

The business is inherently cyclical, with strong sales connected to the timing of big sporting events, said Larry McCarthy at the Center for Sport Management at Seton Hall University.

"There's a certain risk involved, particularly if you're going to produce T-shirts," he said.

VF has tried to build in consistency by securing apparel licenses for games year-round, said Rick Becker, vice president of sales and marketing with VF Activewear.

The relatively broad appeal of the Rams and the surprising success of the Patriots make the sales appeal of each about even.

"Typically, we're rooting for one team of the other," Becker said. "But here, it's pretty balanced."