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Super Bowl: Big business for Winona company

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A low-profile company in Winona, Minnesota is one of the biggest players in college and pro sports in the country. And its merchandise – from hats to pennants to decals to pins – is all over the Super Bowl.

WinCraft, which started out more than 50 years ago making buttons and pom poms for local high schools, now makes goods with the logos of the biggest professional and collegiate sports teams, including the NFL.

WinCraft's products are sold at 6,000 retail outlets including Scheels, Dicks Sporting Goods, and Walmart.

The transformation from a small local company to one with a global reach came about in the 1980s, when WinCraft was able to get its products officially licensed by the NFL, according to the Winona Post.

"The NFL was the first big one," said CEO Dick Pope. "Once I got the NFL licenses, it gave credibility to us as a company."

Once that agreement was in place, other leagues such as the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, and many college teams followed suit. Now WinCraft has licenses with more than 500 sports teams.

President and COO John Killen told the Post that sports marketing has changed so much over the years it's unlikely WinCraft would be in the same business if it started up today.

"I don't think you can get those licenses the way we have them," he said. "We have 34 product families we manufacture. Most competitors have one or two product families."

WinCraft was founded in Winona in 1961, and it's one of the city's top three private employers, according to the Sports Business Journal.

The privately held company has 11 plants and more than 550 employees – 400 of them in Winona.

WinCraft has expansion on its mind as well. Pope explained to the Winona City Council late last month that the company wants to consolidate its eight plants in Winona and build a new facility in the city so it can turn around its products more quickly, the Winona Daily News reports.

The City Council approved a tax-increment financing plan to help the company pay for the expansion.

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