To the outside observer, BreakingT operates as an e-commerce platform producing and distributing sports-themed t-shirts via social media monitoring. And while the three-year-old startup does exactly that, to President Jamie Mottram, it’s more than just a merchandise company.
“I’m so much more informed about sports now than ever before because I feel like we’re creating content,” said Mottram, who previously worked in sports media for 17 years. “We’re covering sports in a totally different format. It’s e-commerce, but it’s completely inspired by what’s happening on the field any given day.”
Mottram, who joined BreakingT last September, described to Sports Business Chronicle one of the first examples he saw of the company’s capabilities and operating speed. On Wednesday, September 27, then-San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain announced he was retiring at the end of the season and a final home start was slated for Saturday, September 30. Within minutes of the news hitting the Internet and social media, BreakingT’s internal social monitoring system — which tracks Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — was triggered.
The conversation spike around Cain resulted in BreakingT creating a ‘San Francisco Forever’ t-shirt highlighting Cain’s 13-year career with one franchise and a memorable celebration moment from his 2012 perfect game.
In less than 24 hours, BreakingT — through two if its 100-plus partnerships — had MLBPA-approved art work and product being promoted on SB Nation Giants site McCovey Chronicles, with an undisclosed affiliate fee for the latter partner. Mottram was quick to add that the company’s affiliate partners play a role in the t-shirt design process as well.
— BreakingT (@breakingtco) September 29, 2017
“That’s a very specific example of the type of work we do and the moments we try and capture and honor every day,” said Mottram, adding that had it not been for the company’s social monitoring system, he wouldn’t have known about Cain’s retirement in the first place.
The startup has built social data filters for the major professional sports leagues and college programs in addition to the company’s sports markets. BreakingT then combines its social listening with “customer data, order data and product data” from 2014, according to Mottram, to make a more educated decision on whether a product should be created.
“It’s so incredibly useful and efficient,” Mottram said of social listening. “It makes us as a small company and a small team, very well-informed. We’re operating much more like a newsroom than a print shop.”
While the analytics tools have been vital for some instances of creating product, like the Cain example, there’s been more overt moments that BreakingT has turned into merchandise.
In the first week of January, Los Angles Lakers coach Luke Walton joked with reporters how he sat down rookie Lonzo Ball for his usual first-quarter rest because his father, LaVar, was “talking shit.” The remarks made headlines and started trending on Twitter, eventually being transformed into a unique quote t-shirt idea.
Walton said he was kidding but he still a legend for this pic.twitter.com/lGzhgTzer7
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) January 8, 2018
— BreakingT (@breakingtco) January 10, 2018
Two weeks ago, when Philadelphia Eagles teammates Chris Long and Lane Johnson donned dog masks following the team’s Divisional Round playoff win against the Atlanta Falcons, the idea for the ‘Philadelphia Underdogs’ t-shirt was born. The shirt has been the best-selling product in 2018.
The second? A ‘Skoly Sh*t’ creation after the Minnesota Vikings’ miraculous last-second Divisional Round victory against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Minneapolis Miracle? Whiff Six? Seventh Heaven?
— BreakingT (@breakingtco) January 15, 2018
“We felt like the moment was the biggest ‘holy shit’ moment in sports that anyone could remember,” said Mottram, who added that BreakingT’s first idea of ‘Skoly Moly’ “wasn’t enough of an exclamation” to celebrate the win. “It’s done really well. Minnesota fans have gobbled it up.”
And within hours of the New England Patriots’ AFC Championship victory this past Sunday, BreakingT unveiled ‘Unbreakable’, which included a design of Tom Brady’s taped right thumb. Despite the injury — a highly-discussed topic before, during and after the game — Brady led New England to a third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
Mottram said that once a t-shirt is created and made available for purchase, the company typically lets product sell for 24 hours to determine what the market is for any particular item. Then, t-shirts are screen-printed at BreakingT’s facility before being sent to buyers.
When asked about the model for social-driven t-shirt merchandise that’s ideated, created and distributed at warped speed, Mottram said he doesn’t think the model exists for this quite yet in sports.
“I think there’s a number of sports apparel makers who create products to capture specific moments, but that’s usually a championship or a large achievement, 500 home runs, Rookie of the Year award winner, that sort of thing,” he added. “A lot of the shirts we do wouldn’t exist if we didn’t make them. Our entire business is focused on the hot market, identifying what’s trending, creating a great design to match that moment, launching it in our store and getting it in front of fans in a matter of hours. Not days, weeks or months, literally hours. That I, think, is unique to us.”
He said that the small niche BreakingT slides into is almost too small of a business for larger apparel companies who move product in brick and mortar retail while market-specific t-shirt or apparel businesses might not have the aspiration or sophistication for developing social listening mechanisms or bridging relationships with dozens of media sites and sports organizations.
BreakingT leveraged the MLBPA partnership for its top-selling apparel of 2017, with Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve professing their friendly love for one another around last year’s World Series. As Mottram explained, the product appeared on SportsCenter and ESPN’s Twitter feed, among other prominent sports media outlets.
“We could not have done those shirts without a license,” he said. “That unlocks a lot for us.”
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) October 29, 2017