Zubaz Is Back In The NFL And Approaching Its Financial Success Of The 1990s

It’s featured in Madden 23, adorning Adidas attire and even part of quarterback Josh Allen’s golf bag.

Clearly, Zubaz — the popular brand of the early and mid-1990s known for its loud, Day-Glo and zebra-striped patterns — has experienced a resurgence.

“That look was gonna come back,” said Bob Truax, Zubaz’s 64-year-old CEO and co-founder. “Everything recycles.”

Zubaz, whose name is derived from the ’70s slang zooba, meaning “in your face,” has $20 million in wholesale dollar sales (which has less markup than retail sales), and Truax expects it to reach about $48 million in three years.

That’s the sum the brand was pulling in at its peak in the early 1990s. At one JCPenney’s in Roseville, Minn., Zubaz was selling 100 pairs of pants a day.

Demonstrating its place in the current football zeitgeist, Zubaz will be showcased in Madden 23, marking the first time Zubaz appeared in that popular line of video games.

“We’re all very excited about it,” said Brian T. Murray, senior art director at EA Sports. “Zubaz is on the rise. So we want to be part of that.”

Though EA declined to provide specific details ahead of Madden 23’s Aug. 19 release date, it noted that as part of a player’s tailored apparel, figures in the game can wear various Zubaz prints.

The apex of Zubaz came in 1991-92 when it was generating $48 million in wholesale dollars, which would roughly equate to $100 million in retail sales.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker played defensive back at Wisconsin during those years and remembers his strength coach, John Dettman, wearing Zubaz pants.

“They were just cool, man,” Tucker said. “Everyone was trying to get a pair.”

Capitalizing on Zubaz’s popularity, Truax and co-founder Dan Stock sold it to a company called 20/20 Sport, a wholesaler and distributor of Hanes products, in 1996.

20/20 Sport tried to turn Zubaz from a pants-driven company to a shirt-driven one and went out of business a couple of years later.

The Zubaz trademark defaulted to Fred Brooks, a Zubaz investor, friend of Truax and one-time chairman of Riddell, the football helmet company.

“I contacted him right away after that happened,” Truax said, “just to sit on it because I knew there would be some day when it would come back and be valuable again.”

Truax and Stock then filed for a worldwide exclusive license on it, giving them the rights to the brand again.

In the 1990s Zubaz had licenses with the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA and Looney Tunes, but when Truax and Stock restarted the company, the licenses didn’t carry over, and they had to reapply.

Now Zubaz only has a license with the NFL, though it is looking to expand to other pro leagues in the future.

Truax and Stock restarted Zubaz in 2006 and then partnered with Dreams Inc., which owned 51% of the company.

Dreams Inc. sold to Fanatics for $183 million in 2012, giving Fanatics ownership of Zubaz until Truax bought them out in 2019. But doing so caused the co-ownership of Truax and Stock, who remains a shareholder but didn’t want to absorb the risk as CEO, to split up, and Zubaz ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy about two years ago.

“That was our only way to really save the business,” Truax said. “We came out (of it) in about nine months.”

Indeed Zubaz is as resilient as the stretchy, elastic waistband of its signature pants.

It even has formed a partnership with Adidas. The global shoe and sportswear company called Truax to boost its football line while trying to keep up with Nike
and Under Armour

Adidas licensed Zubaz’s intellectual property for a fee and used its zebra stripes on football cleats and gloves. Zubaz will be further associated with Adidas on a line of Boost foam technology shoes slated to drop in spring of 2023.

The initial collaboration on football products makes sense, considering Zubaz’s popularity among NFL fans.

The Kansas City Chiefs offer 14 styles, and the team’s mascot, KC Wolf, often sports Zubaz pants. The Dallas Cowboys are a strong market, though the California teams do not sell well.

Miami Dolphins fans remain devoted buyers because legendary quarterback Dan Marino was a celebrity sponsor — along with Claudia Schiffer — in the 1990s.

But no team is more interested in Zubaz than the Dolphins’ rival, the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo is Zubaz’s No. 1 market.

“The product itself just resonates with the fanbase,” said Jason Klein, retail manager at the Bills’ Highmark Stadium. “It brings them back to the nostalgia of the ’90s.”

The Bills’ run of four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993 coincided with Zubaz’s popularity, and Buffalo fans have embraced the company, whose slogan was: “DARE TO BE DIFFERENT.”

Klein said the Bills’ pro shop sells more than a thousand Zubaz pants per season.

“We sell more of that than anything else for sure,” Klein said. “The look of the traditional Bills Mafia … just likes to really wear as much loud and outlandish Bills product apparel as you can get.”

Allen, their franchise quarterback, even had a Zubaz bag at The Match — the televised, 12-hole match play at the Wynn Golf Club in Paradise, Nev. — when he partnered with Patrick Mahomes against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Zubaz helped OnCore Golf, a company in which Allen is a shareholder, design it.

Years before Allen was born, the Zubaz origin story began when Truax, a competitive powerlifter, and Stock ran The Gym in Plymouth, Minn., where Jesse Ventura and the Road Warriors, who owned part of it, also worked out.

“Tons and tons of pro wrestlers trained there,” Truax said.

Then Truax and Stock started Twin Cities Gym in Roseville, and bodybuilders there sought baggier pants because sweatpants were too restrictive for their muscular legs.

Joe Laurinaitis (Road Warrior Animal) and Mike Hegstrand (Road Warrior Hawk) invested in Twin Cities Gym, and Truax and Stock gave 50% of Zubaz to Laurinaitis and Hegstrand as gratitude for helping them out with the gym. The four of them were the original owners in 1988, when it was named “Warrior Distributing.”

Ultimately, the equity shares were reduced, but the Road Warriors still owned part of Zubaz until Truax and Stock sold it in 1996. They also played a major role in Zubaz’s early popularity.

“Those guys started wearing it on the road all the time,” Truax said. “It certainly gave it cred for all of the other wrestlers.”

The Zubaz brand was becoming so popular that Truax and Stock needed to increase their workforce of laborers to sew and stitch the clothing. When some of their friends, who were corrections officers at Minnesota prisons, heard of the need, they had a suggestion: hire female inmates. Thus, convicts produced early pairs of Zubaz pants.

With pants (bottoms) as its specialty, Zubaz even considered joining forces with Salem Sportswear, which specialized in caricature t-shirts (tops), but that partnership never materialized.

The old zebra pant, which used to be 100% of their business, is now just a small part of Zubaz.

Zubaz’s women and men’s activewear includes hooded sweatshirts, t-shirts, quarter zips, polo shirts, jogging pants, leggings and new limited-edition overalls. The brand has a dozen copyrighted prints.

Though they’re not available at Fanatics because of the acrimonious relationship with its former owner, Zubaz items can be purchased at Zubaz.com, Amazon.com, Rally House and most NFL stadiums’ pro shops, including the popular Highmark Stadium store.

In a decade working at the latter, Klein has never seen the store so packed and the excitement level as high as it is now.

After having gone from 1996 to 2020 without winning a playoff game, the Bills, who last played in the Super Bowl in 1993, have bounced back and are now projected by many to finish atop the AFC.

“There’s a lot of belief in the team,” Klein said. “Fans are even more jacked and amped and ready to roll.”

Popularity is peaking and reminiscent of the early 1990s.

Kind of like Zubaz.

Source link

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *