As the “orange hoodie” has become inextricably linked with the 2020 WNBA season thanks to a campaign that got it in the hands of high-profile public figures, a team has found success using a similar model.
The Phoenix Mercury dropped a Diana Taurasi “GOAT,” the popular substitute for “greatest of all time,” T-shirt just before noon ET on Sept. 2. Just minutes later — two, according to Twitter — the team’s website was “clogged,” COO Vince Kozar said.
The Mercury said they don’t have exact sales numbers yet, but noted that in under 10 minutes after the site was back up and running, the existing stock of shirts had sold out. They pivoted to taking pre-orders that will begin shipping on Sept. 17, and within 30 minutes of launching, the shirt page had drawn 5,000 unique visitors.
While the hoodie was distributed to 140 influencers, the Mercury sent about 25 of the tees in nicely-branded boxes with notes to some of Taurasi and the league’s biggest supporters — from Damian Lilliard, Devin Booker and Sue Bird, to author Shea Serrano and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe.
The design is based on Taurasi’s interview with Scott Van Pelt that aired following “The Last Dance” documentary on ESPN in May, which listed her alongside Michael Jordan as the only two professional basketball players in history with their specific set of individual accolades.
“There are sort of two schools of thought about women’s basketball and women’s sports in general. And one is the school of thought from the Twitter trolls, that no one cares. And the other school of thought is the one from those of us who work on it every day, who know and see that a lot of people really do care,” Kozar said. “And some of the people who really do care, who have been really vocal about their support of the W and actually about their fandom for Diana Taurasi have been people who know the game the best. Specifically, NBA athletes, other WNBA athletes, local athletes in Arizona and sports media. “
“And so the more we thought about that, as Diana winds down her career — she can probably only play another 10 to 12 years,” Kozar joked. “We thought, ‘What better way to acknowledge her and celebrate her and give these folks the opportunity to do the same, than to put together a one-of-a-kind shirt?”
So, the shirt lists those down the back: AP Player of the Year, NCAA Champion, MVP, Finals MVP, Olympic gold medalist, league scoring champion and 10-time All-League First Team member.
The front has an illustration of a purple goat bearing Taurasi’s number, three, and the left sleeve has the team accomplishments that “mean the most” to the 38-year-old — her three NCAA titles with UConn, three WNBA titles, and four Olympic gold medals.
The line allows fans to purchase a shirt with any of the WNBA’s approximately 150 players’ names on the back, with a front design that reflects the season’s focus on racial equality.
Lillard, fresh off of being named MVP of the NBA’s restarted season, wore his GOAT shirt on the way to his Game 1 primetime matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 18. Booker, while the Phoenix Suns were still the only undefeated team, shared his on Instagram before wearing it to a game.
“And so all along the intent was, ‘Let’s get it in the hands of the right people,” Kozar said, noting that some will continue to pop up on influencers. “And then we saw how great a job the W did with the orange hoodies. And we thought, ‘Given how cool the shirt itself turned out, given that we think these influencers are going to start wearing these, let’s make a plan for retail.'”
On social media, fans — some more kindly than others — clamored for the shirt. Knock-offs appeared for sale online, of course.
The whole saga only further illustrates the demand for W swag, the surface of which the fan apparel industry is only beginning to scratch.
The orange hoodie is the top-selling WNBA item ever on Fanatics and was the site’s best-selling item overall during opening weekend. As Front Office Sports previously reported, “hot market” brand BreakingT recently launched a WNBA collection that offers a shirt for every player in the league, and sold one for 115 different players within about a week of it going live.
Kozar added that an aspect of building the league’s profile is “acknowledging the giants that are within it.”
“The player who probably likes this the least is Diana. A good analogy is maybe she’s that teacher — who’s everyone’s favorite teacher — who’s been at your school for a long time, who never wants it to be about them and always wants it to be about the students. That’s her — she doesn’t need or want this spotlight, she certainly didn’t ask for a shirt with her accolades on it,” he said.
“But part of really appealing to different audiences is uplifting the figures within our women’s game that are transcendent. And D transcends sports.”