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Decking out the Madhouse on Market St. in Black and Gold

Brantford BulldogsDecking out the Madhouse on Market St. in Black and Gold

When the Bulldogs chose to relocate to Brantford from Hamilton for the 2023-24 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, there was plenty of work to do on and off the ice.

Michael Andlauer, owner of the Brantford Bulldogs, announced the relocation early in February of 2023 and the work was just beginning. Ownership not only had to retrofit the Brantford Civic Centre to accommodate the OHL franchise but re-brand the team with the Brantford Bulldogs logo.

In anticipation of the upcoming move, the Bulldogs held an open practice in Brantford on February 23, 2023. At that time, and with fans clamouring for Brantford Bulldogs merchandise, there was only a t-shirt and a hoodie available with the team’s new logo, which flew off the shelves.

Julianna McEdwards, Madison Hannis and Jake Clanfield show off the new Brantford Bulldogs merchandise that was on sale during the Bulldogs open practice in Brantford on Thursday, February 23, 2023. At that time, the Bulldogs merchandise team only had two items of Brantford-branded merch, now the team has dozens of items on sale.

Now, a year and a half later, the Bulldogs merchandise team has dozens of items available for purchase, including key chains, pens, hoodies, baby clothes, custom jerseys and, the always popular, “Bruiser” stuffed animal. 

Liz Cottrill, Retail Manager for the Brantford Bulldogs, explained the growth of the merchandise over the course of the season.

“Fans can order their own jerseys if they wish. They can get it customized with their own last name, a player’s name, basically whatever number and name they want,” said Cottrill. “We’ve got our new third jerseys, which are exclusive to Branford. So I think fans are really excited about those. We have youth gear, there’s baby gear, we go from three to six months down to little onesies. There’s the “Bruiser” stuffies you know, anything a fan could really want.”

Jake Clanfield helps out a customer before the Bulldogs playoff game on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Cottrill went on to explain the importance of the wide selection of merchandise now available at Bulldogs home games.

“We want to make sure every fan feels like they can come in and purchase something; ultimately we want to make sure that we fulfil every fans’ needs that way,” she said.

With sales on the rise and Cottrill always taking new ideas from fans, she shared her thoughts on the impressive growth of the merchandise department.

“I started at the end of October so I don’t want to take all of the credit as Risa was here at the beginning but we have evolved. We’ve changed things even from when I stepped in at the end of October,” Cottrill explained. “When we started the season, we probably changed a lot of things in the layout to make it more fan-friendly.”

Jennifer McGinnis, member of the Bulldogs Game Day Merchandise Team, cashes out a customer before the playoff game on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Even with the growth and increasing sales, the merchandise team has faced some challenges in their new home.

“More space would be ideal. That’s our biggest issue and  you can see on game days when you shop in any of our locations there isn’t as much space as we would like in regards to spacing and  the flow of fans, and we would like it to be different, but we made the best of it and tried to make it work,” Cottrill said. “One of our locations used to be a coat check room so we got as creative as we could and that’s been really impressive.”

Bulldogs Game Day Merchandise Team members Julianna McEdwards (left) and Matt Kosic pose for a photo before the playoff game on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Stefano Reale, Director of Finance and Administration for the Bulldogs, explained the process of designing the merchandise locations.

“We had good advice from contractors, like Vicano Construction and the architects kind of helped out with that as well. We have this space here, by our office and we figured it would be a good location, especially for walk-in customers throughout the week,” said Reale.

Even though the merchandise locations are smaller than expected, Reale said the fan support has been amazing.

“The fan base has been incredible and their support has been great for us. With all the new branding, new merchandise and new fan base, it’s definitely met and exceeded our expectations,” he said. “We are going to review everything in the off-season though. We will talk with the staff and others but I think we like the set up right now. There’s always things we can improve on but it’s tough with the size of the building and not having a proper concourse.”

Bulldogs fans check out some of the Brantford-branded merchandise available before the playoff game on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Cottrill, who is from Brantford, went on to discuss the Bulldogs and what it has been like to see her city embrace their new OHL franchise and all of the merchandise that has been offered this season.

“I feel very proud to represent my city;  not only to work for Bulldogs, but to be from Brantford and to work for my hometown team,” said Cottrill. “ Brantford merch has been received very well here in town.I think everyone’s proud that the Bulldogs are here and happy to have a hockey team back in the city.”

While Cottrill has been very happy with the merchandise sales, she attributes most of the success to the amazing game day merch team, led, in part, by Jennifer McGinnis. 

“The team is a family. So you come to work and it’s not work. It’s family. We’re all together. We’re all with the same mission. It’s one of those atmospheres you want to be a part of. And you actually love everybody on the team and working with them,” said McGinnis.

Jennifer McGinnis, member of the Bulldogs Game Day Merchandise Team, chats with a couple of fans before the playoff game on Friday, March 31, 2024.

McGinnis, who was born and raised in Brantford, described the feeling she gets when sees Brantford-area residents supporting the Black and Gold.

“I pride myself on seeing people out there with it (Bulldogs merchandise) because of the fact that we’ve grown so much to this point. And having people just wearing it on an everyday basis, not just on game days. I’ve seen my own kids’ teachers wearing merch at school so it’s a really good feeling. And if they recognize me from being here, they’ll always be like, hey, what’s new in the shop? So it’s always a great little conversation starter,” explained McGinnis. “Every night, we are selling more than I think is imaginable. And it just keeps going higher and higher. Even though it’s the playoffs, regular season ticket holders want something of everything. So they want one of everything, and then their family members want Bulldogs merchandise and it’s so good.”

Bulldogs Game Day Merchandise Team members Jennifer McGinnis (left) and Jake Clanfield ring up a customer before the playoff game on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

In their first year in Brantford, the Bulldogs have had success on and off the ice, and McGinnis said the experience has been amazing.

“The best experience of my life actually because my whole family is involved. They’re not here, but they’re here. You know what I mean? They have the laptop on at home watching the game so I guess that would be the best way I could describe it, because the Bulldogs have drawn my family in as it has for the community,” McGinnis concluded.

Fans looking to purchase Brantford Bulldogs merchandise can visit Bulldogsshop.com or drop by the Brantford Civic Centre Tuesdays to Fridays between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

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