Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Iron Bowl, fans on both sides of the divide will flock to stores to find apparel to support the victorious team.
The University of Alabama Crimson Tide will face Auburn University Tigers for the Iron Bowl on Saturday in the rivalry that dates back 129 years.
When the game is over, fans supporting the dominant team will gleefully be in search of apparel to commemorate the victory, while fans of the not-so-dominant team will attempt to forget the game until next year.
One store that has seen locations pop up across the state offers a unique and playful solution to handling the rivalry that has divided the state for many years.
Bama Fever-Tiger Pride has two stores in one, with one half dedicated to apparel and other merchandise for Auburn fans and the other half providing for the needs of Alabama fans.
According to the company's president, Tyler Tomlinson, Iron Bowl week means all hands are on deck to ensure shirts and other apparel get to stores in time for the fans. Described with sleepless nights and candles burnt on both ends, quickly getting shirts and hats commemorating the game into stores requires no small amount of elbow grease.
The family-owned store started with Tomlinson's grandfather, who noticed collegiate apparel was outselling everything else in his Hallmark store, which caused him to set up a stand-alone collegiate apparel store in the same strip mall. Today, the store has ten brick-and-mortar stores statewide and a website.
Scott Tomlinson, Tyler's uncle who oversees production, distribution and more, says the post-game shirts have to be pre-approved by the individual universities and licensing groups. On game day, screen printers will be on standby to put the game's final score on various items.
"Once I get the final art design submitted by the screen printer for our approval, I will take that art design, and I will submit it to Auburn University, University of Alabama and the CLC (Collegiate Licensing Company)," Scott said. Once that gets approved, I've got about four vendors I typically work with to buy the blanks from. I'll determine quantities, how much we want to print etc., and I'm collaborating with Tyler the whole time, and we'll have those blanks in place. The screen printer is about 100 yards from our building. … Those blanks will sit in their building. Immediately when the game is over, they'll start printing. The game will be over at 6:00 or 6:30, maybe – it starts at 2:30. So I would say no later than 7:00, they'll start printing."
One thing that sets Bama Fever-Tiger Pride apart from the competition is the quick availability of apparel with the game's final score printed on them. While many companies will have shirts and hats printed for both sides in the eventuality of a victor, either way, it is rare to have quick access to apparel that contains the game's final score.
"You've heard the joke about kids being overseas and wearing t-shirts of the team that lost a game? They pre-print those, we don't," Scott Tomlinson. "We wait until the game is over, the graphic artist puts the score on there, and they're done by about one in the morning or so."
Although Bama Fever-Tiger Pride will not have apparel ready on the night of the game, many stores will have unique shirts with the final score by opening the following day. According to Tyler, the stores closest to Montgomery will have them by opening, while other stores may not deliver until noon on Sunday.
"The ones that get the shirts first are the ones closest to Montgomery, and then as you get to the end of the state – north or south – those are the ones that get them later in the day; obviously, there is a longer drive," Tyler said.
Like many brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, Bama Fever-Tiger Pride struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the pair, supplying apparel to the Crimson Tide, who won both the SEC Championship and the National Championship in the 2020 season, was critical to keeping the business afloat.
Tyler took the business over after working for the company for many years. After his father, the former president, passed away, Tyler was forced to take over the company during Iron Bowl week in 2019. Months later, stores were asked to shut down because of the virus.
"It was tough," Tyler said. "And then a few months later, COVID hit, and that was like nothing we had ever seen. Being told we had to close our doors was something that there was no playbook on. So a lot of challenges with that. Thankfully, 2020 was a good season on the football field for one of our teams, Alabama. So that kind of helped us out a good bit, that we had a championship year following COVID; that really got us back to where we were at kind of a comfortable position."
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