How Noggin Boss blew the lid off hat market

How it all started: Brian Robinson of the Washington Commanders showed up after a game wearing a Noggin Boss hat.

The most oversized few days of Gabe Cooper’s life began Nov. 27 when Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. showed off his new Noggin Boss hat after the team’s victory. He said he got it from a "family friend."

The next night, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt displayed his Noggin, complete with Van Pelt’s signature head-and-headset logo, on his desk and then donned it during SportsCenter. Cooper had sent it to him a couple of years ago and never knew if he received it … until then.

Clockwise from top left, ESPN's Mina Kymes, Brian Robinson, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt and the Orlando Magic's Markelle Fultz.

By last weekend, two University of Georgia football fans were spotted in Noggins at the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Just like that, Cooper's company was the boss of the sports world, and his cellphone sounded like a church bell at high noon.

“My phone has been ringing, and I have no idea how they get my information,” the Grand Canyon University graduate said. “The email inbox has been pure insanity, and our teams have not slept. So it’s been great.”

Even someone from the NFL Network reached out and said they’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s quite the coup for the fledgling startup that now occupies a vast area in GCU’s Canyon Ventures Center. It has been so crazy, Cooper put out an urgent request for more student workers and doubled his staff to 10 – and is looking for more.

"I hope the kids that work for us get to learn a trick or two they can use when they start their own ventures," he said.

Noggin Boss was born in 2019 but didn’t officially get going until early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. An appearance earlier this year on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” detailed in this GCU News story, jumpstarted the business.

Now this.

“It’s been better than ‘Shark Tank,’” Cooper said. “The people that have reached out, the celebrities – we even have actors reaching out on their platforms.”

He sees it as a God thing, as demonstrated in stories like this:

In the hopes of selling more hats on Black Friday, he placed an order for a special shipment and was shocked to find that it was double what he requested.

God must have been behind it, Cooper figures.

“We’re just stewarding what God has put in front of us,” he said.

To the delight of the Havocs, Noggin Boss has a licensing agreement with GCU.

Cooper emphasized that his company has done its due diligence to make sure it doesn’t violate licensing agreements. Its only agreement is with GCU, and, indeed, members of the Havocs have been spotted with the hats at basketball games.

Unless the order comes directly from a team or league, the hat is sent out blank, with no logos or decals.

“They’re independently decorated by the consumer,” Cooper said. “People take liberties that we’re unaware of. We would never encourage somebody to make your own NFL logo.

“We run everything above board, and this is just other people having fun with it.”

The fun has continued this week with Orlando Magic players wearing them in social media posts and Mina Kimes sporting one on an edition of ESPN’s “NFL Live.” The hats suddenly are everywhere.

“They all wanted in on it,” Cooper said. “Normally we can turn a hat pretty quick, but we’ve never done same day and delivered the next morning by 9:30 a.m. to New York. It’s been wild.”

With a lot of wild scenes. Those two Georgia fans? They traded their Noggins for the gloves of a couple of players, and just like that there were players sporting the big hats at the trophy presentation.

Expect to see a lot more of them at the Super Bowl in February in Glendale, Arizona. Cooper is in talks with the NFL regarding various Super Bowl partner activations.

Cooper and his business partner, Sean Starner, are working almost nonstop. Starner told Cooper he hadn’t showered for three days, and Cooper has found that sleep is a precious commodity.

“We’ll sleep someday,” he said.

And how much, if any, is he getting?

“Averaging four hours a night, maybe not consecutive. It’s like having a newborn again.”

But this time, a newborn company has emerged into the national consciousness. Just like that.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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