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Kids in Haiti Who Think the Steelers Won the Super Bowl: An Economic Perspective


The NFL pre-prints licensed merchandise declaring both teams the winner, then ships the losers' gear overseas to "protect their brand." What are they so worried about?


On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

On Monday, roughly $2 million worth of licensed NFL merchandise proclaiming the losing Pittsburgh Steelers as the victors was being processed for shipment to needy people in Zambia, Romania, Armenia, and Haiti.

The NFL -- as well as retailers like Sports Authority and Dick's (DKS) -- pre-print memorabilia for both teams, so the winners' gear is ready to wear as soon as the final second on the game clock ticks down. In the past, the NFL destroyed non-winning "winning" gear, to ensure misprints never entered the market. But in 1991, after US Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport confiscated a shipment of counterfeit NFL goods and donated them to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization operating in over 100 countries (and does a lot more than distribute tee-shirts), the league agreed to donate mismarked post-season apparel, as well.

Jeff Fields, World Vision's senior director for corporate relations, is overseeing this year's distribution of shirts and caps celebrating a Pittsburgh win that never happened.

Fields tells Minyanville that "a large amount of product [is being sent out] this year because of the huge following the Steelers have," though that following does not generally extend to the places where World Vision operates.

"We're usually in pretty remote areas outside the capital cities, working with people who are focused on day-to-day survival," Fields tells Minyanville. "So, they aren't really following US sports."

A Pittsburgh native, Fields won't be taking so much as a cap for himself as a reminder of what could have been.

"With this particular product, with the NFL, we have to send it overseas," he says. "The league doesn't want it surfacing on eBay (EBAY) or something like that."

Dr Gerald Murray, a professor of anthropology and Haiti expert at the University of Florida, tells Minyanville that those thousands of shirts -- even ones that may go unworn -- can be of great help.

This type of aid is tricky -- it could get confiscated by the government, they could make you pay all sorts of exorbitant taxes to get it into the country, there are all sorts of mechanisms to steal. There are about a million people still living in camps in Port au Prince, so some of it may get worn. However, if you can get it in and spread it out among the population, it's more likely its first destination would be the marketplace. There's a vigorous trade among Haitians in selling used clothes, especially when they cross the border into the Dominican Republic. That would make this sort of item very helpful as a source of income.

A few years ago, Time magazine's Jim Rogers explored the market for cast-off apparel in parts of the Third World.

Central America has, for years, been a dumping ground for unwanted used clothing from the United States, thanks to church giveaways, hurricane relief drives and other charitable and business endeavors. The legacy of that goodwill has turned Nicaragua's streets into a living, if slightly tattered, scrapbook of pop culture memories: everything from 'Avoid the Noid' and 'Party Animal, Spuds Mackenzie,' to 'I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt.'

Those wearing the tees are either unaware of or unconcerned by the meaning of the English messages they bear. It's not uncommon to see a man wearing a T-shirt boasting 'World's Best Grandma,' or a young girl wearing a shirt lamenting 'Stripping ruined my life.' I've seen an old woman in 'I Love AC/DC,' an indigenous grandmother with a shirt bragging, "My boyfriend is hotter than yours," and another disclosing that 'My boyfriend is out of town.'

Sometimes, the message can be downright subversive. Once in Costa Rica, a friend and I were waiting for a bus when a group of tough-looking teenagers approached and gave us a hard look. But the leader of the pack was wearing a T-shirt that read: 'I'm not a bitch, I just suffer from permanent PMS.' I didn't know whether to hand him my wallet or a Motrin.

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