Entrepreneur Highlight: Scott Gollnick
Have you ever attended a Greensboro Grasshoppers game, or watched the Independence Day fireworks from the Burlington Sock Puppets stands? Have your kids ever dragged you out to a game with a Nickelodeon or Marvel theme? If any of those answers are yes, then you have laid eyes on the handiwork of OT Sports, the manufacturing company for custom sublimated uniforms for more than 400 minor league sports teams in the nation.
With a team just shy of 100 employees, OT Sports creates each garment from start to finish in Burlington, North Carolina. Each jersey, polo, and sock – to name just a few of their products – is designed, cut, sublimated, and sewn in their 40,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. With North Carolina’s history in textile manufacturing, it is no surprise that the company prides itself on being based in Burlington, a city with a long legacy of textile innovations and production.
OT Sports was first started by brothers Scott, Chris, and Al Gollnick in 1994, born out of a love of sports. In 1992, while attending college abroad in Prague, he was surprised by the lack of licensed fan merchandise available for purchase at a Czech hockey game. This experience inspired Scott and Chris to solve this business problem; the brothers worked with the local Czech and Slovak teams, mainly in hockey and soccer, to supply licensed fan jerseys and apparel for purchase at games. Soon after, OT Sports was signing licensing agreements for teams and leagues throughout the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. When Scott first started supplying licensed apparel to the Czech teams, he drove all around the country asking various teams if they were interested in his product. He would fax logos and designs back and forth with his brother Chris, who was in the United States, while Scott was in Prague. Nowadays the process has transitioned predominantly into computer programs.
The company was incorporated in the United States in 1994 when it set up its factory headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina to focus on the American sports market. What set OT Sports apart from other manufacturers was the use of sublimation technology, a technique popular in Europe but had not yet reached the United States.
Sublimation is a printing technology used to permanently dye an image into the fabric with heat and pressure. The dye used for a sublimation transfer changes from a solid to a gas, and when combined with heat and pressure, absorbs into the material to reveal a permanent print. Different from screen printing – where an application is ironed onto the material and leaves a textured feel behind – a sublimated image is incorporated directly into the material, eradicating problems such as cracking, fading, or peeling. Since its founding, OT Sports uses sublimation to create specialty theme jerseys, replicas, and of course authentic player jerseys. They can create one-of-a-kind themed jerseys through exclusive licensing agreements with Nickelodeon, Star Wars, and Marvel, as well as manufacture private label uniforms and apparel for companies like Champion, New Balance, and Reebok.
The unique approach to sports merchandising attracted some of the top minor league professional teams in football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and hockey, with audiences as close as Burlington or as far as Hawaii and Canada. Now as the company reaches almost 30 years of experience, OT Sports is a leader in sublimation technology in merchandising, supplying over 100 in minor league baseball and over 400 in other various minor league sports.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation in March of 2020, OT Sports made the temporary transition from manufacturing jerseys to making masks. Mask production focused on supplying protection to the players and staff of minor league teams, as well as supporting efforts such as Relay for Life and Save the Children to make masks widely available to the public. The ability to not only adapt with the demands of the pandemic as well as provide for the community shows the company’s commitment to their craft.
Scott Gollnick remains the VP of Sales and Marketing, where he oversees brand development and marketing for the company. You can see the pride Scott takes in his work, and the fact that many on staff have been with the company for years. “When I talk with people, I want them to understand the work that is behind those uniforms,” Scott says. “Each step of the process takes place here in Burlington, where we can have control over the quality of the product.”
Whether it’s the Durham Bulls Baseball or Cincinnati Cyclones Hockey, the Arena Football League or the NBA G-League, be sure to keep an eye out for the OT Sports legacy. If there is a themed night at a game, you might see their work!
Isabella DeLaGarza, EYOS Fellow
425 S. Lexington Ave.
Burlington, NC 27215