Just when you thought that all the advertising space was occupied on the field, here comes the folks from EyeBlack.com. The company will sell millions of pairs of EyeBlack--yes, the stuff that's supposedly used to cut down on glare--with college and high school logos on it this year. But there's the dream that one day corporate logos will one day appear under the athlete's eyes. I sat down with Peter Beveridge, the company's CEO and president, to talk his company.
DR: How did you get into the EyeBlack business?
Beveridge: Three or four years ago, I was watching TV and I noticed these players starting to wear this black EyeBlack patch on their face. And I thought, how much better would it be if you could put a logo on it? A short time after that, I quit my job and partnered with the guy who has the three U.S. patents, one pending, and it allowed us to put logos on the EyeBlack.
DR: How did you know it would be a success?
Beveridge: We first tested it at the University of Maryland, the University of Miami and Virginia Tech. And the football players there loved it. If they would have come back and said, 'Well, we're not really sure, I don't like it,' it would have been a disaster. But the feedback has been great.
DR: How has the business grown?
Beveridge: When we started, we had a tattoo product, so you'd have to put water on it and you'd have to remove it with rubbing alcohol. About a year ago, we came out with a peel and stick product and sales took off.
DR: Who are your customers?
Beveridge: The people who we sell it to really are the teams for the players. We sell it to the fans because the fans like to wear what the players wear and then it's a great sponsorship or gameday giveaway product.
DR: How many different designs are you making right now?
Beveridge: We're probably on about 400 college teams and we have 3,000 to 4,000 high schools. So we have a basis stock of about 1,500 images that people can choose from. If people want to get something new, we can do that.
DR: So far the NCAA and the NFL doesn't allow logos on eyeblack, but what's your dream of the future?
Beveridge: Ultimately we hope a larger company sees this as part of the marketing toolbag. So they can actually own--if they work with us--the space under the athlete's eyes for the next 10 years or so. People are already wearing gloves and elbow pads and neck braces with manufacturers logos on it. So it would not be a big leap to think that a Nike logo or an Under Armour logo on the eyeblack is too far down the road.
DR: What's the next big move that EyeBlack.com has to make?
Beveridge: Well, we'll probably sell a couple million pairs this year. I think the sky is the limit with this product because we've only scraped the surface of the very top of a mountain here. What we really need to do is to get into these big box stores.
DR: How much does it cost per pair and how quickly can you turn it around?
Beveridge: It ranges between 50 cents and $1.25 a pair depending on the quantity. If we already have the artwork, we can have them to you the next day. If it's custom, it takes about two weeks.
DR: You mentioned to me before that corporate America is buying a tremendous amount of these things.
Beveridge: We have some very big clients on board right now. We've done work with Disney (for "High School Musical 2"), with HBO (for "Hard Knocks"), with Playboy and Miller Lite. We've done tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of pairs with this companies. Some of these companies are starting to see this as a great branding tool at events. It's kind of a cool thing to wear eyeblack. It has a certain cache or makes your feel tougher.
DR: What are the growth sports for EyeBlack these days?
Beveridge: There's no doubt that football is king. Football has more money (to spend) than anybody else. A big sport for us is softball, lacrosse is getting big and then there's soccer. Frankly, I had never seen it with soccer, but we have a lot of customers who play soccer.
DR: How do people find about that you're the guys behind the EyeBlack?
Beveridge: I always tell people we are the best kept secret in sports because everybody sees us on TV every weekend, in Sports Illustrated and when they open up the newspapers on Saturday. They see our product, but they have a difficult time trying to find us.
FYI: For a good read on the history of eye black, click herefor a great article from ESPN.com's Paul Lukas.