If you're in San Diego and frequent Target and/or Padres games, you've probably seen those awesome Matt Kemp and Derek Norris tshirts. Some of you have even talked about them in our comments here on Gaslamp Ball before. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, here's a little taste:
Unfortunately, as Padres fans, we are all still kinda waiting for Matt Kemp to unleash the beast. But Kemp's 2015 season aside, these shirts are pretty rad. What makes them even cooler: the company that designs them is headed in part by a member of the Friar Faithful.
Pro Merch was founded in 2011 by two friends, Luke Rodgers and Austin Cassleman. Luke is a former San Diego resident, Aztec for life, and Padres fan who reached out to Gaslamp Ball last month. In corresponding with Luke over the past few weeks, I found we had a lot in common. Not just because he's a Padres fan and went to SDSU and lived in San Diego. But we're the same in that we're both passionate sports fans who spread our love of sports through our work.
Pro Merch has a license with MLBPA that allows them to create their merchandise. Aside from the aforementioned Kemp and Norris shirts, they have created merchandise for NFL and MMA fans as well. San Diegans may remember the Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen tshirts that graced our Targets last NFL season. If you peruse the ProMerch website, you can see for yourself all the different shirts sorted by sport, league, or city.
Luke was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his company and his fanhood and maybe some other random stuff.
GLB: How does a young company like yours work out a deal with the MLBPA? That seems like something reserved for big established companies.
LR: As far as our MLBPA license, we had a few assets that really gave us an edge. As you said we are a small, and young company, however we negotiated an exclusive agreement with Target stores in our second year and leveraged the relationships we had with a handful of NFL players into a NFLPA license. This was a long process, it took us about a year to get NFLPA licensed, however once we had that we were able to secure crucial retail real estate in Target including endcap space. The combination of our exclusive with Target, our NFLPA license and our prime retail space in Target really gave us an edge in securing our MLBPA license. In addition to these assets, I think we really add something special to a traditional and plodding market space. By being athlete-centric, and also working directly with many of our players we are able to deliver unique artwork, on a soft-vintage and well-fitting garment, and set ourselves apart from traditional properties licensed apparel. We are passionate about cool, fresh and nice fitting t-shirts.
GLB: A lot of us have seen your Kemp and Norris shirts at Targets here in San Diego. How do you go about getting your merchandise sold in retail stores like that?
LR: Retail for us is really about relationships and our product. We try to put something unique and different in the marketplace and we are passionate about delivering a super soft and wearable tee that can be worn to a game, but also as an everyday shirt. We work with a lot of current and retired athletes, and we think this really gives an edge over the larger and less nimble companies competing in the same space. We are huge sports fans making apparel for other passionate sports fans.
GLB: Do you have any new designs in the works with any other Padres?
LR: We do actually have a few things in the works for the Pads. We have a Shields design that is done, and we are working on some throwback Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield designs. Our license with the MLB HOF gives us rights to those legends and we would love to release these later this summer.
GLB: Do players have to approve your designs?
LR: This is a great question. As far as our PA licenses, the approval process is handled by the unions. They approve the designs based on the set of rules they have negotiated with the corresponding leagues. However, we have a lot of personal relationships with players and agents, and work with many of these current players to get their approvals as well. Guys like Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Eric Decker, Jameis Winston, Jordy Nelson, etc, all worked with us on their designs for our 2015 football line that launches next month. There are a lot of others, baseball is very much the same. All of our legacy players either approve their designs or have their families/representation approve them. Our roots are really here. Working with the athlete to develop their brand and something they are proud of.
GLB: How do you feel about the Padres' current uniforms and colors? There's a big fan movement to "Bring Back the Brown" - what are your thoughts on that?
LR: I am a fan the original Padre Brown. It harkens back to the roots of San Diego's missions and the brown worn by the original "padres". Friar Tuck would approve and he's always been a beacon of light in my life, personally speaking, of course. Bring back the brown. You stay classy San Diego.
GLB: The first time you emailed me you said that Point Break is the greatest movie of all time. But what do you think about Top Gun? I ask because the Padres always play scenes from Top Gun on the big screen at Petco Park during games.
LR: Point Break is the greatest movie of all time. I love Top Gun as well. Can you believe that they are doing a Top Gun 2 and get this sacrilege—they are remaking Point Break. How can you do that without Keanu, Busey, and of course Swayze? The answer is you can’t. There isn’t a better bad movie than Point Break, its quotable and so ridiculously cheesy, it wins.
GLB: Anything else you'd like our readers to know?
LR: I actually spent the last six years living in San Diego. I am a big padres fan, and an Aztec. I did my MBA at SDSU, and my favorite food in the entire world is Bull Taco. I can quote The Princess Bride all the way through, I have a french bulldog named Carl Weathers, and I love hot sauce and craft beer. I have a wonderful girlfriend named Lindsay. I have an honorary black belt in karate and I am not afraid to pretend I know how to use it. I have met Chuck Norris and his real name is Carlos.
THANKS, LUKE!! Can't wait to see those Shields, Gwynn, and Winfield designs!
In addition to answering our questions, Luke also offered to send us some Padres shirts, which we'll be giving away to you Gaslamp Ballers. I have three shirts - two mediums and a large - up for grabs. Unlike our pillow giveaway from earlier this week, this one will be a fanshot contest.
If you've never posted a fanshot before and/or don't know how to post one, check out our handy FanShot Tutorial. If you still need help, drop a question in the comments here or email me at email@example.com. You'll have until 7:00 pm PT next Thursday, July 16th, to post your best / most interesting fanshot and collect recs. The three individuals with the most recs by that time will be the winners. Good luck!