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Ready for the Bowls: Texas Football Maker Stays Busy

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

  • Five thousand. That's the number of footballs Big Game USA in Dallas is going to produce in the next two weeks. "We like to say we're the coolest business nobody knows of," said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game. "We really only do football. That's what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can't sleep at night, I'm thinking about football. That's something that is ingrained in my brain." Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season. (Drew Davison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)



Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Thursday, December 20, 2018

Dallas — Five thousand.

That’s the number of footballs Big Game USA is going to produce in the next two weeks. Yes, one of the biggest football factories is located in a modest-sized building nestled in an industrial part of north Dallas.

“We like to say we’re the coolest business nobody knows of,” said Chris Calandro, founder and CEO of Big Game.

“We really only do football. That’s what we eat, sleep and breathe. When I can’t sleep at night, I’m thinking about football. That’s something that is ingrained in my brain.”

Big Game is producing souvenir and commemorative footballs for more than 90 percent of the bowl games this season, including the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, the Frisco Bowl and the First Responder Bowl in Dallas.

They’re filling special orders, too, such as Oklahoma to celebrate its Big 12 championship victory earlier this month, or Texas A&M for its seven-overtime victory over LSU.

“It’s definitely an intense time right now,” Calandro said. “The tricky thing about the bowl games is they have specific deadlines that we have to hit. It’s a tight window. The bowl teams were announced roughly a week ago and they all need them before Christmas.

“It’s go-time for us.”

Big Game manufacturers the balls a majority of college programs — and a number of high schools — use on game day, too. If it’s a Nike or Adidas program, Big Game is manufacturing its game balls.

The lobby features photos of former college greats who used Big Game-produced footballs such as Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

Calandro remembers meeting with Prescott a few years ago, and how big Prescott’s hands were (Prescott’s hands measured at 10⅞ inches at the NFL Combine in 2016). Prescott liked his footballs as big as the NCAA would allow, while other quarterbacks prefer to be on the smaller end of the spectrum. The NCAA has a little leniency in terms of the size each game-used football can be.

Schools such as TCU order about 200-225 footballs a season. That’s the average for most Power Five programs.

A school such as Alabama may order more than 300 footballs because it gives them away to boosters and fans, while smaller schools could be in the 150 range.

Big Game has it down to a science where it takes an average of seven minutes to produce a football.

It starts with a piece of cowhide — not pigskin — that is cut into pieces and then sewn together with equipment from the 1940s. The assembly line process also includes the balls being hand-laced, a process that takes approximately two minutes, aired properly and brushed to perfection.

“Football making is artisanship, and I think there will always be a hand-made element to it,” Calandro said. “Most of it you can’t replace with machinery. Our attention is on the quality of the product. I don’t give a rip so much about cutting costs, or saving money, it’s more about making the best product and gaining market share.

“As long as we continue to build a good product at a fair price, we’ll keep winning. Our business model is not very complicated — it is build the best available football and treat people right.”

Calandro feels he’s perfected the football making process better than anyone in the world. The operation has come a long way since footballs used to be made with pig intestines, hence the “pigskin” term.

“When they figured out how to do it right, no one was more happy than the pigs,” Calandro said, smiling.

It’s a unique process that blends old-school approach (the 1940s sewing machines) with new-school (different technology to put logos and commemorative decals on).

“A lot of the machinery we have is very old because you can’t buy it. We have to use old machinery and refurbish it every year,” Calandro said. “But we also have cutting edge technology and we’re always adding new equipment that’s state of the art.

“It’s cool that we can bring the old and new stuff together. But it’s all about the product. We make an amazingly good football, the best one in the world. We spend a tireless amount of attention to detail. We’re maniacal about quality and that’s really our competitive advantage.”

With a dominant share of the college football market, the next step for Big Game could be the NFL. That won’t be an easy contract to land, of course.

The NFL has had a longstanding relationship with Wilson dating back to the 1940s, but Big Game figures to make a push for that contract when it expires.

“I don’t really like to puff my chest out, but maybe five years ago, I felt I could put a stake in the ground and say, ‘We make the best football in the world,’ ” Calandro said. “I think it only makes sense that the best league in the world uses the best football. We’ll be gunning for it. Don’t count us out.

“We’re an American company and we make everything here. We’re proud to make them right here in Texas.”