Imagine a pitch-black Thomas & Mack Center full of 18,000 spectators. As the crowd's roar crescendos, the Hey Reb! mascot on every fan's shirt starts glowing brighter and blinking energetically.
That's the soon-to-be-realized dream of two UNLV MBA students, Travis Williams and Brian Harge. Their noise-activated, light-up "Game-Day" T-shirts are bestsellers for Sports Entertainment Gear (SEG), a company the duo founded last year. The UNLV version sports our grinning mascot and athletic logo.
"This creates a connection to the game like never before," Williams said. "We all want to be part of something. This allows us to experience that."
SEG hopes to sell a growing line of shirts, hats, noisemakers, and more to college and professional teams worldwide. "We will be like Nike is to Oregon State, like Gatorade is to the University of Florida," Harge said.
Williams and Harge already have pitched their product to a number of universities and the director of marketing for the 2016 Olympics. And appearances at nationwide business plan competitions have opened access to marketers from professional athletic leagues.
"They have tapped a part of the market that is looking for a different, new kind of product," said Janet Runge, enrichment coordinator at the Lee Business School, who serves as an advisor to the team. "Fans drop money on T-shirts and other team apparel without blinking an eye. They have hit a real sweet spot in the market."
Williams earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University, where he played on the football team. He worked in marketing for several businesses but was looking for a career that would let him express his passion for sports. A few years ago at a trade show in Las Vegas, he met an inventor who had created light-up apparel. The inventor had tried to market the product for about 20 years but had never developed a solid business plan.
Williams sent his initial business idea to a handful of friends and Harge, who also works in finance, was the only one to respond. With Williams' marketing experience and Harge's financial know-how, the Game-Day shirt was born.
SEG has entered business plan competitions around the continent, guided by Lee Business School professors and mentors who have helped them refine their concept. In 2011, they were finalists in the Nevada Governor's Cup, a competition that honors the best business ideas from Nevada universities. The team also placed third in a Colorado State University sports business competition.
During the next several months, they will compete in six more business competitions, which will help them share their idea with marketing executives nationwide.
"We are building a Game-Day empire," Williams said. "And we will always say that we got our start at UNLV."
How does it work?
SEG shirts use what's called an electroluminescent panel that lights up in response to a tiny amount of electricity.
The panel is attached to a battery pack, which weighs about 8 ounces and uses four AAA batteries. The battery packs can be placed in a pocket that is sewed into the shirts or they can clip to pants or belts. Batteries last about three full games, including attendance at the tailgater, SEG says.
The panel uses lights in five to seven sections, which light up in a random pattern. SEG's product uses a sound sensor to signal the electricity. Sensitivity controls allow the wearer to set the level of sound required to get the lights to respond.
Similar technology using electroluminescent material, which has been called the next generation of LED lighting, has been used for lighting on car dashboards, pagers, watches, and thermostats.
The shirts can be hand washed or dry-cleaned.
SEG is developing newer versions with lighter batteries and improved technological design.
The shirts are available through the company's website and at Beat The Bookstore. They also will be sold at some Alumni Association events, such as pregame tailgates.