Rusty Namie was ready for Gonzaga to reach No. 1.
His design was set and approved by the university. He had hired eight extra employees to work the printing machines at his T-shirt printing plant in Spokane Valley. A staggering $70,000 worth of supplies to make new shirts for Gonzaga fans had already been ordered, and it waited inside the walls of Namie’s business, Zome Design.
All that was left to do was sit, wait and watch for the results, which can make for a long, agonizing couple of days. Especially with $70,000 on the line.
“It was all weekend long, it was what all the conversations were,” Namie said, since the Associated Press releases its weekly college basketball rankings on Monday.
“I kept hearing, ‘No, they’re probably not going to go No. 1 this week, maybe next week.’ Meanwhile, we’ve got all this blank gear sitting here.”
But that’s the beauty of the T-shirt business: never knowing if it will pay off. At least that’s how Namie describes it.
“It was a financial risk,” Namie acknowledged. “If it doesn’t happen, then you’re financially upside down.”
But his gamble paid off.
The Zags were voted No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll and in the Amway Coaches Poll, the first time the Zags have topped the lists since 2013.
And Namie’s warehouse bustled. In four days, Zome Design printed close to 15,000 shirts and shipped them to stores in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas, including Albertsons, Safeway, Rosauers, Zip Trip, Yoke’s and Sport Town.
The design features a basketball drawn behind an outline of the United States. In the center of the shirt is Gonzaga’s bulldog logo with “Top Dog” printed on either side of the bulldog. The shirt also features Gonzaga’s No. 1 ranking, including the date the Zags were first voted No. 1 in the polls this season, Jan. 30.
The design is available as a short- or long-sleeve T-shirt, hooded sweatshirt or crewneck sweatshirt, and is also available in women’s sizes. Fans can choose between either a navy blue or red shirt.
The “Top Dog” shirts can also be purchased online at GonzagaApparel.com. Prices depend on vendors, but the T-shirts are generally priced between $12 and $15. Hooded sweatshirts cost from $30 in stores to almost $42 online.
The shirts were available in some stores by Tuesday afternoon, early enough for fans to buy them ahead of Thursday night’s 85-75 win over BYU and Saturday’s game against Santa Clara at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Zome Design’s senior account manager, Zane Troester, expects the company to produce about 2,000 more shirts, for a total of 17,000. Of course, it all depends on Gonzaga’s ability to remain atop the polls in the upcoming weeks – and the Zags’ ability to keep winning.
“Last night was nerve-racking,” Troester said on Friday, a day after the Zags took down the Cougars inside BYU’s 19,000-seat arena.
A loss would most likely have meant falling out of the top spot, which doesn’t sit well with Namie. If Gonzaga can stay No. 1 in the polls, Zome Design can print and sell more of its “Top Dog” shirts, and the company’s employees can get a lot more hours during a time of the year that the printing business tends to slow down.
So, from now until March, Namie and his business partner, Brayden Jessen, will be Gonzaga’s No. 1 fans.
“When we watch these games … it’s like high-stakes gambling. You’re sitting there with a lot of money on the line, and if they lose, it’s done,” Namie said.
Troester said the next project in line for Gonzaga apparel is an “undeafeated” shirt, a design that will only be available if the Zags finish the season at the end of February with a perfect record. The only other shirt Troester said Zome Design will print is if the Zags go all the way in the NCAA Tournament and win the final, since NCAA rules only allow a handful of companies to print shirts using the words “Sweet 16,” “Elite Eight” and “Final Four.”
If Gonzaga doesn’t win it all this year, Troester is still confident the Zags could keep improving and bring home a championship trophy in the near future. And Zome Design will be right behind them with the celebratory T-shirt.
“I hope to God that in our lifetime they win it,” he said.