You might notice something funny about the picture above – although they played in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, the Calgary Flames lost Game 7 and the Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But, of course, the NHL licensed official Flames championship gear in case the Flames did win the Stanley Cup. This is standard practice for many North American professional leagues, including the NHL – as players pull on official championship hats and t-shirts seconds after winning a Stanley Cup or Super Bowl, and fans rush out to snap up championship merchandise, distributors and manufacturers quietly pack up the “loser gear” that was produced in case the other team won the decisive game. In simple economic reasoning, the leagues and their distributors know that the profits to be made by having championship gear immediately available for sale far outweighs the cost of producing a separate set of merchandise that will never be sold.
So what happens to the “loser” gear? As a recent post at The Post Game explains, most often it is donated to international NGOs that distribute it in various developing countries around the world:
For World Vision International and a small number of other nonprofit groups, the gear that proclaims the wrong team champion is a windfall. The leagues can’t very well destroy thousands of perfectly good caps and shirts, sizes ranging from petite to double extra large. So they donate it to humanitarian organizations to hand out in developing nations.
“The clothing has been distributed in more than 100 countries, all over Africa, to Asian nations, to Latin America and Europe,” said Dean Owen, a World Vision executive. “It goes to places of the greatest need, definitely not to Sweden, but definitely to Zimbabwe.”
As with many micro-level issues in hockey, the charitable efforts of the NHL (and other sports leagues) must be situated in their broader sociopolitical context to be properly understood. At first glance, these donations appear to be a win-win: leagues such as the NHL offload useless and potentially embarrassing merchandise, and people living in poverty receive aid in the form of clothing. Sure, t-shirts and hats might not be as high priority as food or medicine, but it’s free and better than nothing, right?
Turns out it is not nearly that simple, and there are some compelling arguments as to why these donations of “loser gear” contribute toward some international aid practices that are very damaging to the economies of developing countries and the livelihoods of their citizens. As with most international development programs, there are two sides to the coin: after the jump I explore the arguments for and against this practice. Read more of this post