When John “Bearcat” Brennan set out to compete in mixed martial arts in 2013, he did so without ever having the intention of launching a business from what was then a hobby.
The now 30-year-old Pennsylvania native was working full time for the Lancaster Barnstormers baseball team when a friend in Alex Einhorn would purchase tickets to Brennan’s amateur MMA bouts, for no other reason than to “support” his buddy.
“I became a fan of regional MMA before I became a fan of the bigger promotions, and that was really due to me not knowing too much about the sport, but also because I was friends with John and supporting what he was doing,” Einhorn said.
The two young men started throwing ideas around, but like many brainstorming sessions, things just kind of fizzled out after a while.
The idea that Einhorn and Brennan pitched to one another in regards to launching a t-shirt company or brand that would support combat sports athletes, began six or seven years ago but never truly came to fruition until early 2020.
“The lifestyle of a fighter, especially on the regional level, was so interesting and I wanted to link my company with some of these fighters like John, even though my brand had nothing to do with MMA, I just wanted to support them,” Einhorn said.
Lateesha Mohl would eventually become the first athlete signed to MMA Tee Company. The sales pitch and everything about the transaction was so new to everyone involved that the contract was literally written on site between both parties.
One year later, Mohl is extremely happy with the decision she made.
“MMA Tee Company has provided amazing service to me, both as a customer and as a sponsored fighter,” Mohl said. “From the highest of quality shirts to the endless support from the owners, I will never want to sell my fight clothing through any other company!”
Just like with most startup businesses, Einhorn and Brennan had to claw their way to the surface. How do you get the attention of the fighters you are trying to work with, but also gain their trust and confidence when you are just starting out?
“Our original goal was ‘sell shirts,’ and ‘make life easier for fighters,’” Brennan said. “I ran with that, and our whole sales program was ran through Instagram direct messages.”
Originally it started out that Brennan and Einhorn would provide free graphic design, a page on the MMA Tee Company website where all of their fans could go and buy their merchandise and all of the fulfilment done including packaging and shipping. Brennan would then pitch to the athletes that not only would all that be done but then they would also be paid for the sales that they make.
MMA Tee Company would officially be “launched” on March 5, 2020
“We launched and then two weeks later the entire world got shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Brennan said.
That’s when Brennan and Einhorn put their heads together and changed the dynamic a bit.
The duo were initially selling shirts to support fighters at their upcoming events. With virtually all mixed martial arts competition shut down on the regional level, the two had to come up with a new idea and quick.
“One things fighters are always in need of, especially on the regional level is interviews,” Brennan said. “One of the things that major promotions look at is how you act on camera, ‘what are you interview skills like?’ I started reaching out to fighters that we already signed and asked them if they wanted to jump on a Zoom call to be interviewed. At first they weren’t very good, I had a script and kind of just rolled with it but eventually it turned into an interview series. We had ‘Fighter Spotlight Series, ‘Fight Preview,’ and ‘Industry Insiders.’ That kind of all developed into its own media and branding that we never planned on. It all sort of just happened because of the pandemic.”
Another major development that sort of steamrolled out of the pandemic for MMA Tee Company was the ability to print one-offs. Initially shirts were printed in bulk for events and for the athletes. But as events were canceled and fewer quantities were being ordered, Brennan Einhorn had to adjust and learn how to print one garment at a time without taking a hit on revenue.
Through trial and error, MMA Tee Company was eventually able to bring small order or one-off printing in-house and eliminate the outside vendor.
“We failed a bunch of times,” Einhorn recalled. “We were prepared, but we weren’t. The pandemic hurt us in a lot of ways but it also developed us and initiated a lot of the processes that we have in place now that we would have not had otherwise. It forced issues on us that we didn’t even think we had.”
Now with more than 60 fighters in their stable in just one year, the MMA Tee Company team has hopes that sanctions will lift and more and more events will proceed around the country.
“We’d love to spend 2021 at the very minimum with a 12-month span where we have fights happening, if not every other weekend, every month, consistently around the country, where we are sponsoring fighters and moving their apparel,” Einhorn said. “I would love to see this happen with fans attendance, because I think that if we can do that in 2021, then we can look back sort of like we are doing now, and ask ‘Now, what are our goals?’ 2020 was good for us in a lot of ways but the company was founded to be an event-based business and we just haven’t had the events. We’re going to continue to sign fighters,” he continued.
One of those fighters that MMA Tee Company is currently supporting is Lenny Rufati who has a fight coming up at Triton Fights 18 in Florida on March 27.
“I love them,” Rufati told MyMMANews of his relationship with MMA Tee Company. “They are honest, hardworking guys. They do all the work for the fighter.”
MMA Tee Company – Quick Numbers
- More than 3,000 t-shirts sold in 1 year
- 2 UFC fighters sponsored
- 5 fighters who have competed for Bellator MMA sponsored
- MMA Tee Company has worked with fighters competing in more than 40 different promotions
- Fighters sponsored in 3 different countries – U.S., Brazil, Thailand
- Fighters sponsored in 15 different U.S. states
- Donated/paid-out more than $10,000 in cash to fighters in 1-year