Super save was AdPro Sports at its best
As the Los Angeles Rams prepared to fly to Atlanta one week before Super Bowl LIII last January, they were hoping to travel in style.
In fact, the Rams wanted matching warmup suits for their contingent of around 200 people.
Some provisos: Because Nike holds NFL master apparel rights, the warmups had to be Nike-branded, and they had to be in Los Angeles in time for a Sunday morning pep rally. But because a company of Nike’s size can have difficulty fulfilling such orders on a tight turnaround, the smaller but more nimble AdPro Sports — one of the country’s largest Nike team dealers — was able to step in.
Since 2017, AdPro has been majority owned by Terry and Kim Pegula, who also own the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. They bought in thinking their connections would help AdPro reach new heights. In this case, the plan worked perfectly. While the Rams’ overtime win against New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game had cost AdPro a large “if win” order from the Saints, a congratulatory email from Kim Pegula to Rams owner Stan Kroenke elicited the warmup suits order.
Then things started getting difficult. The only Rams blue warmup suits that Nike had in sufficient quantity were Jordan Brand, decorated with Jumpman logos. Not until those warmups were shipped, however, did Nike decide it didn’t want its top basketball brand involved.
AdPro, which decorates and embellishes apparel manufactured by leading companies such as Adidas, Nike and Under Armour, executed a deft brand swap. Paul Schintzius, partner and senior vice president, suggested embroidering over the Jordan chest logos and replacing the Jumpman on each pant with a Nike swoosh — even though that meant removing each Jumpman indicia by hand with tweezers.
Nike and the Rams quickly signed off and AdPro prepped for an even quicker turnaround. Then the package of swoosh patches arrived — around 70 short. AdPro made its own, and added Super Bowl LIII logos to complete the look. The order was finished late Thursday and 20 boxes were delivered to FedEx by 9 a.m. Friday — where they stayed, immobilized, like everything else around Buffalo, by more than 17 inches of snow. With the help of a transfer in Memphis from FedEx to a commercial flight, the warmups made it to LAX early Sunday and the “Jordan Unbranded” warmups were worn by the Rams at their pep rally.
“That was one of our best turnaround stories,” said AdPro President Ron Raccuia, who’s helped morph AdPro over the past quarter-century from a B2B supplier of furniture and office supplies to a supplier of top athletic branded apparel to teams, including the Pegula’s Bills and Sabres.
AdPro originally used the local sports connections of Raccuia and other top executives to sell into colleges and high schools. In 2002, the company became a Nike dealer and its trajectory took off. “Basically, we offered Nike’s big head-to-toe apparel and marketing deals to colleges and high schools,” said Schintzius.
“We were executing a B2B strategy in the team business when no one was,” said Raccuia, who played baseball at nearby Canisius College. “Then we got Nike and things got even better.”
HEADQUARTERS: Cheektowaga, N.Y.
EXPERTISE: Entirely business-to-business. As one of America’s largest Nike team dealers, AdPro takes apparel from the likes of Adidas, Nike and Under Armour and decorates it, adding the names and logos of a high school, college or pro team, and increasingly, corporate entities.
Ron Raccuia, president, partner
Jeffrey Diebel, svp/partner
Tom Naples, evp, partner
Paul Schintzius, svp/partner
Even before the Pegulas bought in, AdPro was growing. There have been six straight years of growth of at least 15%; this year revenue is on target to increase from $23 million to $27 million.
As for the advantages of having an NFL owner as your lobbyist: “Visibility and networking are the two biggest things,” said AdPro Senior Vice President Jeff Diebel. “At the top levels, we used to scrape to get connections; now we have credentials that get us in to new accounts.”
Five years ago, AdPro’s business was 90% team sports, but today it’s 60%. Among the new corporate accounts are M&T Bank, which has large sponsorships with the Bills, Jets and Ravens; and CBS Sports, which was eager for corporate-branded apparel with the quality and stature afforded by Nike, Adidas and the like. Gifting at the NBA Finals for VIPs was from AdPro. So was staff apparel worn at the NBA draft. AdPro is also expanding, with NFL deals in Charlotte and Jacksonville.
On-site decorating capabilities — including screen printing, heat appliques and hand sewing, with a 60,000-square-foot attached warehouse — allows AdPro to be especially agile while producing more than 1 million pieces annually.
“Like any B2B operation, we’re about relationships and solving problems,” said Tom Naples, partner and executive vice president. “As long as we continue to do that, growth should follow.”