If you had gone behind the scenes before the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, you would have seen the letters of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s last name already cut out in white lettering, ready to be transferred onto a teal Jacksonville jersey. Jaguars by a team of four Stahls. Employees of Transfer Express.
Of course, you would also have seen Lawrence’s name in every other NFL team’s font and color, ready to transfer to every other NFL team’s jersey in the microscopic case that, say, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Patrick Mahomes to the Jaguars in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick.
“No matter what team he (Lawrence) would have been drafted by, we were ready,” Jason Ziga, senior vice president and general manager of Stahls’ Transfer Express, told Mentor.
Plus, you would have seen the same setup for BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (who ended up becoming the Jets’ No. 2) and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (who went on to become the No. 15 of the Patriots) and all the other first-round picks including The new No. 1 jersey was expected to be ready for its 15 seconds of glory on ESPN, ABC and NFL Network broadcasts.
Because on a night filled with uncertainty, one thing was certain: the NFL’s best two-minute drill was being played behind the scenes by a team from northeast Ohio.
Here’s how it worked. Once a team made their selection, the Transfer Express team had two minutes to put the player’s name on the shirt. An NFL representative would then grab the jersey and hand it to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell onstage. (Alas, Lawrence stayed home for the 2021 draft, so Goodell held that jersey on his own.)
“There’s definitely pressure, but it’s a very well-oiled machine,” said Ziga, who said his team destroyed all the names once the first round was over. “We’re doing a really good job of preparing, so everyone knows their position and what they need to do. Even though it’s a tight two-minute window, it’s not madness or madness there- low.”
Detroit-based Stahls’ has been a licensee and supplier to the NFL for over a decade. Transfer Express provides the custom screen printed transfers used to personalize jerseys. Unlike last April, this year’s project did not include any Transfer Express employees. But Stahls was on hand at this year’s draft, which took place April 28-30 in Las Vegas.
Not only did Stahls print the jerseys for the newly drafted players, but they also offered fans the opportunity to customize their own jerseys or shirts at the NFL Store inside the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace using the same technology as that of Mentor. Stahls’ also does a lot of business with online retail giant Fanatics and on the NFL’s online store through its 10-year partnership with Legends Global Merchandise.
Ziga, a graduate of St. Edward High School and Cleveland State, came to Stahls in 2013 after spending several years as an adjuster for companies like Progressive and Farmer’s. He started as a sales manager and took just six years to reach his current position, where he leads a team of 350 people and oversees all aspects of screenprinting transfers and digital screenprinting transfers within of Stahls’.
“One of the things about insurance is you’re not allowed to go off the beaten path,” he said. “In a company like Transfer Express, and Stahls’ in general, you can be very creative. There’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. It’s a family business, so it’s a lot easier to innovate and try different things. There’s a lot more capacity to act.”
Of course, just because Stahls’ is a family business doesn’t mean it’s a small business. It markets itself as the global leader in heat transfer technology, acting as a licensee and supplier to the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA, as well as many well-known retail brands. .
It doesn’t just serve the major leagues, though. It also serves little leagues and recreational leagues.
“Our core business is the typical family store that serves the local community for things like high school sports and family reunions,” Ziga said. “And the same technology that’s used behind the scenes for the draft is used by those stores.”