Noggin Boss throws its hat into the Olympic ring

Noggin Boss team lead Crissy Kittle applies a patch to one of the officially licensed Olympic Noggin Boss hats.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Everyone will be watching Grand Canyon University tip its hat to the world this summer at the Olympics, thanks to one of the startups it has nurtured.

Noggin Boss, which landed a licensing contract with the NFL in the fall, struck a deal with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to sell its oversized hats emblazoned with the Olympic logo.

“Noggin Boss featured at the Paris Summer Olympics places the company and GCU on a global stage, one that will showcase how Noggin Boss has created an entirely new category of personal promotional apparel,” said Robert Vera, founding director of the University's Canyon Ventures business incubation center.

“The world will soon see that GCU has the structure that generates and launches game-changing innovations," he said.

Al Roker donned a Noggin Boss hat on the "Today" show in April. (NBC)

The hats made their television debut during a "Today" show segment on Rockefeller Plaza in New York last month. Audience members and control room staffers wore different versions, one design featuring the United States flag and five interlocking rings, another featuring the words Team USA, as part of NBC’s 100 Days to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris countdown.

Producing hats for the Olympics is the latest milestone for the company, co-founded by GCU graduate Gabe Cooper and busines partner Sean Starner, who started their company in 2019 and gained notoriety with an appearance on entrepreneurial competition show "Shark Tank" in December 2022.

Last summer, they secured a license to produce Noggin Boss hats for all 32 NFL teams.

Noggin Boss team member Jonah Coughlin models one of the officially licensed Olympic Noggin Boss hats.

“This is kind of our first step into international expansion,” Cooper said from his office at Canyon Ventures. “For a while, we wanted to make sure the licenses that we had with the NFL, NASCAR and (various) colleges would be something we could execute domestically with excellence before we try to bite off more than we can chew.

“This is probably one of my most heartwarming licenses that we have because it’s Team USA, so everybody can get behind that.”

Noggin Boss also will get an added boost from the Paralympics, happening 2 ½ weeks after the conclusion of the Summer Games, which will expose the company to Paralympics charities and causes, Cooper said.

Landing an agreement with the Olympic Games was a priority for Noggin Boss, and securing a contract was easier than the NFL licensing process.

“The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee recognized quickly how this can add value to what they’re already trying to bring to that market,” Cooper said. “When the Olympics are overseas, they're trying to stimulate fan engagement as much as they can when it's not as close with time zones and things like that.

“Obviously, they saw the viralness this was having across all the sports here. So it just made sense to continue to add it on a larger stage like that.”

Noggin Boss is in negotiations to sell hats at the Olympic House (souvenir shop) in Paris and is making a pitch to fly a team to France with their equipment. If negotiations are successful, company representatives will make the trip a few months after a similar trip in advance of the College Football Series and Super Bowl, which enabled fans to purchase the hats on demand.

The company is already getting a head start on sales at events before the Paris Summer Games at Olympic trials involving track and field (Eugene, Oregon), swimming (Indianapolis) and gymnastics (Minneapolis).

Noggin Boss founder and CEO Gabe Cooper with an Arizona Cardinals Noggin Boss hat at his business space in Canyon Ventures.

Cooper added that several networks and talk shows have inquired about obtaining Noggin Boss Olympic hats to promote their segments.

This translates to more business and more jobs for GCU students.

“It’s been incredible,” Cooper said. “We’re blessed to have such good students here.”

Cooper estimated from 20 to 30 GCU students are performing part-time roles at Noggin Boss, with the chance for employment to double or triple, depending on the time of the year.

Already, the company is better prepared to handle the demands for NFL and college hats. Noggin Boss did not get its NFL license until late May, forcing Cooper and his staff to play catch-up to meet the inventory demands of 32 teams.

“We’re already getting requests for this season where teams want (the hats) by July so they can be ready for training camp,” Cooper said.

The contract with the Olympics and Paralympics is the first step toward international expansion for Noggin Boss, which appears on the verge of striking more deals with the right support staff in place.

A licensing contract with UFC is set to launch during the International Fight Week celebration June 24-30 in Las Vegas. The weeklong celebration includes the UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony and UFC X.

The biggest prize, however, could be with FIFA, which will produce the 2026 World Cup in Mexico.

Noggin Boss is ready for the Olympics. (Contributed photo by Noggin Boss)

“FIFA and the UFC will open the doors for events like the Tour De France and Formula 1 Racing,” Vera said. “We believe that Noggin Boss will be the promotional apparel of choice for fans in these events.”

Cooper recognizes the passion of the soccer fans and the demands associated with satisfying them.

“We have them all waiting on our doorstep to activate various licenses, but we're just trying to grow smartly,” Cooper said. “You can't get over your skis if you're not careful. We just want to make sure that with every new license we get, we can execute with excellence before we take on another one.

“We want to make sure we honor those that have given us those opportunities and continue to build.”

The announcement of the 2024 Class for the National Basketball Hall of Fame brought extra significance for Cooper, who was a fan of some of the players scheduled for induction Oct. 12-13 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Cooper received the list of inductees in advance, so each honoree received a Hall of Fame Noggin Boss hat with their names embroidered on the back as part of their swag bag.

“To see some legends that I passionately watched as a boy wearing our stuff was really cool,” Cooper said. “These are athletes and celebrities that have everything, but it brings them so much joy because it’s fun and unique."

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: GCU's Noggin Boss company caps climb with NFL licensing contract

GCU News: How Noggin Boss blew the lid off hat market

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