From wearing a foxtail at a press conference to dancing in the end zone, most of what Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton does publicly generates loads of buzz.
That’s the case with a shirt he wore during Sunday’s warm up before the home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. The shirt’s image showed Cam and his infant son, Chosen, doing Cam’s signature dance, the dab.
On Cam’s left sleeve was the name of the shirt’s designer, Tykes, a Charlotte-based graphic design firm that specializes in customized avatars. Tykes never thought the feedback from fans would be so loud, but thanks to its social media campaign and exposure from athletes, word spread fast.
“When (Cam) ran out of the tunnel, we had no idea it was going to get that kind of attention,” says Jason Woullard, Tykes’ president and chief executive officer. “The response has been tremendous.”
Tykes sells other Cam shirts online, but that particular Cam-Chosen dabbing shirt isn’t one of them.
These days, Tykes is getting 200-500 requests a day, Woullard estimates, from fans, athletes and celebrities wanting to be “tyked out,” or to pay to have a Tykes-made avatar cartoon made of themselves.
Tykes hasn’t spent a dime on advertising, Woullard says. Rather, the company relies mostly on athletes like Newton – and last year NBA standout Steph Curry when he won the MVP – to promote the custom designs.
“We get an NFL player to say, ‘Hey can you create this?’ and we do and they put it out onto social media, that’s how it grows. Their fan base then starts to ask the question: ‘Where’d you get this from?’ ” Woullard says.
The problem is, Tykes is somewhat of an “underground” company, Woullard says, that “few people” know about. It’s only made up of three individuals – Woullard and two designers in Cincinnati, Ohio, and New York – as well as a few freelancers. That makes the demand hard to keep up with.
Woullard also doesn’t want be a temporary fad and saturate the market with the avatars too quickly. “We want this to last a long time,” he adds.
Woullard describes himself as Tykes’ “concept guy” who pitches the realistic depictions of athletes to his designers once a request is made by a league representative, athlete or team. Each avatar’s details are as realistic as possible, he adds.
“If someone has gold on a portion of their shoe that actually shines a certain way, we want to make sure we capture that, too,” Woullard says.
Tykes uses its Instagram account to showcase its latest avatars, – another of which is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who wore Tykes socks with his image while warming up before last week’s playoff game against the Denver Broncos.
The idea for the Cam-Chosen dabbing design came about when the Cam Newton Foundation approached Tykes asking for ideas for something he could wear to warm up along with the shoes with the name “Chosen” on them.
Under Armour, which made the shirt, says it was made specifically for Cam and isn’t available to purchase at retail.
Tykes currently has three other Cam Newton shirts for sale on its website, and all proceeds go toward Newton’s foundation, which raises money to improve childrens’ educational, physical and social needs.
Tykes hasn’t yet gotten any feedback from Cam directly on the design, Woullard says.
“We’re looking to hear from him at some point soon. But in all honesty, we just want him to focus on football right now.”