PHILADELPHIA, PA — You’re sitting in a sports bar in Anytown, North America, intensely watching a heated bout between two rival teams displayed on every television in the place. The sport? Doesn’t matter. Hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer – they all have one thing in common. FANS. Every sport has passionate fans and every one of them will inevitably ask “What side are YOU on?” when they meet other enthusiasts.
If the folks at sporting apparel designer and manufacturer True Rivalry® have anything to say about it, no one will need to ask you that question (which also happens to be the company’s tag line) because the answer will be written all over your attire. “It’s a call to action and by wearing one of our tees, everyone knows where you stand regarding sports affiliation,” says Jason Portnoy, President and Founder of True Rivalry.
Based in Montreal, True Rivalry has a mission “To be the brand for the TRUE and PASSIONATE sports fan and to offer the best quality products and the best customer service while doing so.” They offer high quality, unisex t-shirts, hoodies, and hats, and are currently working on the creation of women’s and kid’s lines of clothing as well. According to Jason, his merchandise caters to fans at all levels. “From the ones who would miss their own wedding for a playoff game to the casual fan and even to the person who just wants to wear a cool and stylish looking tee.”
So how did this Montreal native go from being on track to attend law school to starting up his own clothing company? Jason says he was tired of buying player shirts year after year, only to have to throw them away when those players got traded, not to mention that he believed they looked too casual for some occasions. “I couldn’t walk into a nice restaurant or go on a date wearing a logo tee, so I thought there has to be something better out there.”
He did find something better, by creating it himself. “I heard someone say ‘Jesus Price’ during Carey’s first NHL game, and I thought that would make a great tee.” Then, during the 2010 Montreal Canadiens playoff run, he created and copyrighted his first signature design, the Halak Stop Sign t-shirt. Portnoy says the overwhelmingly positive response he received from people clamoring to purchase the Halak tee illustrated a need for a different kind of sporting apparel. “A brand was needed for real and stylish sports fans. Something that lets you show love for your city or hate on a rival in a stylish way.”
Jason and his team spent about a year focusing on building a company that would stand out in a sea of team-licensed gear and logos. In 2012, he re-launched True Rivalry with a full selection of products representing a variety of sports, teams, and cities. “Right now we cover most of the big sports markets. However, when we get a demand for a team, we do our best to accommodate our customers.”
These are not your run-of-the-mill threads. They’re edgy, modern, and bold. Here are just a few examples of True Rivalries statement-making designs:
(For your chance to grab your own True Rivalry gear, see the special offer for Hockey Pub readers below.)
The past year has brought a whirlwind of growth for Jason’s company, with sales increasing due to True Rivalry appearances at trade shows and in stores across Canada and the US like Hockey Experts, RUA Sports Fanatic, Prime Time Sports, and Cosby’s Sports. Online sales have also allowed them to reach overseas into the European market. Jason says the best sales markets are currently Montreal, “Habs fans are very loyal,” as well as New York and Boston.
The recent NHL lockout sent negative financial effects rippling throughout the retail and entertainment industry, the effects of which were felt at True Rivalry. “People weren’t buying hockey stuff. Being a Montreal-based business, that is our niche sport.” But the designers at True Rivalry tapped into their creative reserves and found a way to stay on trend during a dismal fan situation. “We are a business of sports fans and were all furious over the lockout and, like any fan, wanted it to finally end. That’s why we made lockout-themed shirts for the angry fans (the Fire Bettman tee) and for the fans just wanting to see hockey (the Bring Back Our Game tee). The designs made an instant impact as, according to Jason, True Rivalry was the only brand in the sports market offering apparel related to the frustrations of being a fan during a lockout.
Celebrity sports fans and icons have also taken notice of True Rivalry’s quality. Notable names like Kris Letang, Jay Baruchel, Mark Wahlberg, Montreal hip hop artist Annakin Slayd, and Our Lady Peace drummer Jeremy Taggert have all been spotted wearing True Rivalry clothing. “It’s a very cool feeling. We’ve looked up to these athletes and celebrities and to see them love our gear means a lot. From a business perspective, you always want some athlete or celebrity to endorse you but to get the type of love we’ve been getting has been quite rewarding.”
Even Habs legend Jean Beliveau is the proud owner of a True Rivalry shirt. “It’s kind of surreal. True Rivalry was created to give sports fans a means to express their passion but to see it land in the hands of someone who you’ve grown up hearing stories of, someone who is a legend… as a lifelong Habs fan mixed with being a business owner, that’s just a great sight to see.”
True Rivalry’s success story is also highlighted with work done to help raise funds for some very worthy charitable organizations. “We believe strongly in giving back and have been lucky and
privileged to have had the opportunity to do so,” states Jason. Fundraising events have included a fashion show for En Famille (a non-profit offering support to children and families living with cancer), Save A Child’s Heart (an international organization dedicated to improving pediatric cardiac care), and Look Good…Feel Better (a program helping cancer patients improve their self-image). In addition, True Rivalry created a limited-edition Gary Carter tribute tee when Carter passed away and donated all proceeds from the sale of those shirts to the Gary Carter Foundation.
Jason has big goals for his company, and is determined to make those dreams come true. “I want True Rivalry to be the next sports empire. When people think sports brands I want True Rivalry to be one of, if not the first, name to come off their tongues.” Right now, he says the next step is to keep growing, learning, and adapting. “We are not perfect, but we strive for perfection. We may never reach that, but in that pursuit we will be able to deliver great service and products to our customers.”
One area of growth comes in the form of a new partnership recently announced between Rocket Sports Media, Inc., the parent publishing company of Hockey Pub and All Habs Hockey Magazine, and True Rivalry. If you missed the press release about this exciting news, you can check it out HERE. Jason believes the partnership is a exciting new chapter in his company’s future. “I just think the ideas for collaboration are endless. I am excited to be working with a group that shares the same thought mentality, strategy and vision that we pretty much use to run True Rivalry.”
Dedicated, passionate sports fans can be found in just about every city around the globe. Supporting a sports team is a universal commonality that people from all corners of the earth can understand and relate to. For Jason, he believes it’s their love for a team and love for the game that drives their passion. “Sports fans are nuts. We are passionate, crazy, angry, excited…we are truly a class of our own. I’ve seen grown men who won’t cry at a funeral not just shed a tear, but bawl their eyes out when their team loses.” It’s that kind of raw emotion that makes True Rivalry a perfect fit for fans.
EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR HOCKEY PUB READERS
Visit TrueRivalry.com to check out all of True Rivalry’s stylish merchandise. As a special offer exclusively for the loyal readers of Hockey Pub, enter the code TRALLHABS at checkout to receive a 15% discount on your entire purchase at TrueRivalry.com! (Offer expires May 31, 2013)