Love repping your favorite NFL players and teams, but can’t afford the authentic jerseys? Don’t worry, sports fans — a new Seattle startup is here to help with a unique rental service, and I’ve been testing it out.
Rep the Squad debuted its e-commerce sports jersey rental service two months ago, charging customers $19.95 per month to receive selected jerseys in the mail, one at a time. When you’re done wearing one, you can return it and receive a different jersey as long as you maintain your subscription.
I gave the service a try before heading to the Seattle Seahawks game against the Los Angeles Rams. It was pretty cool donning a fresh No. 29 Earl Thomas III jersey as I strolled through LAX on my way to the LA Coliseum. Here’s what I learned about this unique (and fun) retail concept.
The idea here is pretty simple: Give sports fans flexibility when repping their favorite team or player.
High-quality, officially-licensed authentic jerseys cost upwards of $200 — a hefty investment that can feel especially painful when a player is traded to a new team, or when your child grows out of his or her size within months.
The business is similar to other heavily-funded clothing rental startups like Rent the Runway or Le Tote, which follow a recent trend of consumers prioritizing access over ownership, whether that’s using Uber rather than driving a personal car, or paying a monthly Netflix fee to stream video content. It also follows a sharing economy model that is driven by new technology that enables peer-to-peer usage of a car, home, or other physical assets.
But, really, sports jerseys?
Some high-profile investors think the idea will take off.
Investors in Rep the Squad include sports stars such as Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin; Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate; Los Angeles Chargers lineman Russell Okung; and Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez. Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman is a brand ambassador, while venture capital firms such as Madrona Venture Group, Maveron, Aspect Ventures, and Curious Capital have invested.
My first Rep the Squad experience was seamless, and it was awesome rocking an Earl Thomas jersey around Los Angeles and at the actual game itself. There’s something really cool about instantly connecting with other Seahawks fans also wearing jerseys and showing their team/city pride, especially in enemy territory.
I’ve been a Seahawks fan for more than a decade, but haven’t owned an authentic jersey, mainly because of the cost. That’s where Rep the Squad might change the game.
For $20 a month, or around $100 for a season, you can wear multiple jerseys — different players, different color schemes, etc. If you like the jersey enough you can purchase it, or you can just give it back.
The company, which spun out of Madrona Venture Labs, launched in late August with Seahawks, 49ers and Lions jerseys. Today it expanded to include the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders — yes, that means Seahawks fans who miss “Beast Mode” can order a black-and-silver Marshawn Lynch jersey if they so desire.
The startup will launch NBA jerseys next month, with MLB following next year, said Rep the Squad CEO Brian Watkins, who showed me around company’s facility in Seattle this week — more on that below.
First, though, here’s a quick rundown of how the entire process works.
Other than the cheesy stock image on the homepage — is that an Eddie Lacy jersey, dude? — Rep the Squad does a pretty good job with the sign-up and ordering process.
Once you create an account, you can pick a jersey and add it to “My Locker.” For the Seahawks, there is a large selection of jerseys for current and retired players, with colors ranging from the bright green Color Rush to the black Salute to Service.
I love the way Earl Thomas plays football — his mindset; his talent; his work ethic; his leadership. And I like the white Seahawks jerseys. I set my size to “medium” and added it to my locker.
A few clicks later and the jersey was on its way.
I ordered the jersey at 8:05 a.m. on a Monday. By Tuesday at 5:36 p.m., it was on my doorstep.
I liked opening up the box and immediately seeing the “29.” The jersey was wrapped in plastic, giving it a certain feeling of “new,” even though someone likely just wore this before me. It smelled like fresh laundry and didn’t have any nasty ketchup or mustard stains. I immediately put it on and felt excited.
The box comes with instructions, or a “Game Plan,” that shows you how to return the jersey in a prepaid mailer bag that ships out with USPS. You can add different selections to your locker, and once you’ve returned a jersey, another one goes out. Rep The Squad handles the sourcing, shipping, and cleaning of jerseys from its warehouse in Seattle.
For me, it was well worth paying $20 to rock a jersey at the game in LA, especially since I don’t have much other Seahawks gear. The jersey was also particularly useful when I was late for my flight back to Seattle and other Hawks fans let me cut the security line.
Now I’m figuring out what to do next with the Thomas jersey and my Rep the Squad subscription.
Rep the Squad said I could purchase the jersey for $90. It sells for $150 new, so that’s not a bad deal. I may just cancel my subscription now and be done with it, but the idea of getting to wear different jerseys for the rest of the season for another $20 or $40 is intriguing, particularly as the service adds more players and sports.
I visited the Rep the Squad HQ just south of CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field in Seattle this week, where the company has a small warehouse that serves home to its jersey fulfillment center and an office.
USPS makes two stops daily at the facility, dropping off worn jerseys and picking up new ones that are delivered to customers. Rep the Squad ships out all orders made by 3 p.m. on the same day. The company has its own washing and drying machines, and of course, many, many jerseys that are purchased from various retailers.
Watkins, a long-time Seattle entrepreneur with leadership experience at places like Nordstrom, Ritani, Blue Nile, and Wetpaint, said the company has learned a lot since launching in August — everything from how the jerseys are cleaned (residential washers are enough); to how they are packaged (individually bagged); to making sure each box stays under 16 ounces (USPS prices go up for anything heavier); to the best types of marketing promotions to deploy (events at local bars and coworking spaces are equally beneficial).
Watkins noted that he’s been surprised with the response from customers who are posting about their jerseys on social media.
“I’m blown away,” he said. “I never thought we’d have that impact, but people are truly excited when they get it.”
— Adam (@1Ablod12) October 8, 2017
— #SeahawksForever (@12thFanZach) October 2, 2017
— Joshua Grindstaff (@josh_grindstaff) October 14, 2017
There haven’t been many issues of completely damaged jerseys, Watkins said — Rep the Squad can clean basic stains, but will charge customers the full price of a jersey if there is serious and obvious damage.
The jerseys can withstand a certain amount of liquid matter — here’s a grody test run that Rep the Squad did to assess the threshold. It came out of the wash like new, but Watkins noted that the company doesn’t “encourage such behavior.”
For those that want to purchase their jersey, Rep the Squad uses an algorithm that calculates the value of a jersey based on wear and, perhaps more interestingly, how a player is performing on the field or if he/she will be traded to a different team.
“We’re using analytics to predict the value of that player next year,” Watkins noted.
Watkins, who co-founded the company with former Ritani colleague Alex Berg, said the company has multiple ideas for how to grow the business. It starts with expanding to different sports and leagues — the initial NBA jerseys will be available to customers next month, and more cities/teams will be added over time. The company also plans to open a warehouse on the east coast next year so it can fulfill orders faster for customers closer to that side of the U.S.
Rep the Squad is also thinking about different packages — for example, a 3-month subscription option for the holiday season, or letting customers rent two jerseys at a time for a higher monthly fee. There are also ideas about going beyond jerseys and offering other licensed products to sports fans. Then there’s the possibility of opening pop-up shops at stadiums or arenas.
More technology will also be used to grow the business — like stitching RFID tags into every jersey to allow for better inventory management and possible geofencing for unique events, perhaps.
You can sense the excitement about the company’s potential for success when you talk with Watkins.
“These opportunities aren’t just exciting,” he noted. “They are actually achievable.”
Watkins said that the reception from manufacturers, leagues, teams, players has been positive.
“Our position is that if we can grow the total market for jerseys, which means leagues and players make more royalties and we get more fan engagement and a better fan experience, why wouldn’t people be happy with us?” he explained. “The numbers we have early on show that it’s happening.”