Pittsburgh company gets NFL approval to make clear plastic bags for stadiums

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 11:39 p.m.

A solid rushing game is a big part of nearly every successful NFL team.

And the ability to rush to meet the demand for clear plastic bags embossed with team logos helped a Pittsburgh company land National Football League approval to produce bags that fans can use to carry gear into stadiums and pass quick security inspection.

The league this season began banning bags larger than a person's hand, including medium-size purses, camera bags, computer bags, backpacks and fanny packs. Fans can bring seat cushions if they do not have a zipper or a seat back, but coolers and beverage containers are not permitted.

The ban covers Steelers and Pitt Panthers games and concerts at Heinz Field. An exception will be made for bags holding medically necessary items.

“We had 70 days notice about the new policy, which is a very tight time frame for designing the bags, getting them approved by the NFL and having them produced, so it was a definite challenge,” said Rob Brandegee, owner of Little Earth Productions in the South Side.

The company is one of three NFL-approved manufacturers of such bags.

Brandegee said quick work by in-house designers helped Little Earth make 75,000 Steelers logo bags available for sale a week before Sunday's pre-season opener.

Four styles of bags up to 12 inch es wide and deep and 6 inches in diameter range in price from $7.99 to $19.99.

Retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, Amazon.com, Yinzer's, and Black and Gold Forever will begin selling the bags during the first week of September. The Steelers open the regular season at home against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 8.

“As soon as the news broke about the change in rules for bringing bags into the stadium, customers started asking for them,” said Albert Elovitz, owner of Alberts Gifts on Penn Avenue in the Strip District. “We won't be getting them in for a few weeks, but I expect they will be big sellers.”

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said the team tried to avert problems by informing season ticketholders about the rule change and posting a video on its website. Before Sunday's game, which drew about 52,000 people, roving “ambassadors” circulated Downtown and in parking lots near the stadium to hand out free bags. They'll do so during the first several games, he said.

Though fans can get into Heinz Field by stuffing gear into a one-gallon freezer bag, the word “Ziploc” emblazed on the side won't fly with many members of Steelers Nation, Brandegee said.

“I don't think people in Pittsburgh fully understand how hardcore the fans really are,” Brandegee said. “We sell merchandise in every major market in the country, but it's nothing like in Pittsburgh. We understood immediately that if fans here were going to have to use a clear bag, it would have to represent the Black and Gold.”

The company, founded in 1993 by Brandegee and Ava DeMarco, its president, designs and manufactures licensed products for women sports fans. It handles distribution for Steelers merchandise sold at the stadium and online — including the iconic Terrible Towel — and supplies logo merchandise for 200 professional and college sports teams.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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