Iowa women’s basketball shattered attendance records in 2023. Whether it’s single game, single season, or Big Ten tournament — the Iowa Hawkeyes are box office. And it’s easy to see why — just look at the stands at Carver-Hawkeye. Or rather, the t-shirts fans are wearing.
Dave O’Brien and Christy Winters-Scott even took notice of it in Friday’s broadcast.
“A lot of different t-shirts honoring the Hawkeyes in this area,” O’Brien said.
“All over town for each player. A lot of love shown to them in this community,” Winters added.
So, where are these shirts coming from?
RAYGUN, a design company based in Des Moines, sells merchandise with various slogans printed on them. They’ve been around since 2004 and have locations in Iowa City, Davenport, Omaha, Kansas City and even Chicago.
The formula? Simple: Think of a slogan people gravitate towards, and put it on something they would buy. The range of products? Endless — and constantly expanding. Political activism, snarky Midwest humor, holiday attire. All inscribed on shirts, sweatshirts, notebooks, buttons etc. Some of which I’ll touch on, others you’ll just have to see for yourself.
But here’s what I will share: Sports sells — for $23.95 + tax. The company carries primarily Iowa Hawkeye merchandise, along with some Iowa State and Drake gear, too. And there’s some pretty good ones.
“Fryowa City” has a nice jingle to it. “Iowa Hot Guys” is just a blatant jab at anyone who’s run a Hawkeye transcription. But those aren’t the items that have been flying off the shelves lately.
You’ve seen it: Happy like Hannah. Grit like Gabbie. Work like Warnock. Money Martin. T-shirts with players’ names on the back. Personalized Iowa women’s basketball shirts have been in demand and on display.
“Women’s basketball NIL shirts have been weekly top sellers at our location almost all season,” Iowa City store manager Joe Heuerman said. “It has been awesome that we could be a part of one of the most exciting teams in all of women’s basketball while also being able to directly support the players.”
Caitlin Clark’s deal with Nike prevents her from being able to work with RAYGUN, but all the other stars have deals in place to receive a portion of sales with their names featured on it. However, when Caitlin received a technical foul for screaming, “Damn it,” it ended up on a shirt.
For those not named Caitlin Clark, RAYGUN connected with popular Hawkeyes and provided them some suggestions for what a shirt would look like. They pay out a percentage of sales to the student-athlete whose name, image, or likeness (get it?) is used on the product.
“They gave me a couple different slogans and I think that one stuck,” senior forward McKenna Warnock said. “It’s also interesting because growing up my AAU coaches would only call me Warnock and here they don’t really do that. It brought me back to who I was when I was younger.”
And so, “Work like Warnock“ was born.
It makes sense. She’s the Hawkeyes’ best wing defender and a career 42% 3-point shooter. Warnock is a multiple-time academic All Big-Ten honoree — and she’s going to dental school. Yeah, McKenna Warnock works hard.
Gabbie Marshall’s “Grit like Gabbie” tee fits a similar bill. She led the team in steals, including eight over the last four games — all of which had the utmost importance. How about a season-high 21 points in the toughest game of the season, the 89-84 semifinal win over Maryland? That’s grit, like Gabbie — and it fits seamlessly.
“I’ve always talked about how I want to be gritty on defense,” Marshall said. “Whether that’s getting my hands on the ball, in passing lanes, getting deflections — steals and extra possessions for our team and I feel like that’s just how you have to be on defense. Just being gritty in all things that you do.”
Monika Czinano’s moniker was, as she put it, “original”: Go Bigs or Go Home.
“Off the top of my head — go bigs or go home — just a cool little play on words. I’d like to say it was pretty original,” Czinano joked.
But hey, there are no rules with this stuff. Just ask senior guard Kate Martin, who elected to prose her name as a definition: The Glue.
“I texted my best friend and she came up with it, so she gets credit for making that,” Martin said.
The concept itself is unique — the NCAA doesn’t sell jerseys with names on the back, and most fans show up to games wearing team colors and team gear. But RAYGUN has enabled supporters to purchase items with their favorite players name on it.
“I didn’t really have that connection and I wish I did in my life,” Czinano admitted. “But it’s cool seeing kids have that connection and kind of develop that at that age.”
“It’s just something you kind of dream about when you were little just to see somebody wearing your jersey or wearing your t-shirt,” Kate Martin said. “I just feel thankful that people would want to buy that and wear that and just support us and not just supporting me, it’s supporting our whole team.”
The best-selling shirt? Freshman forward Hannah Stuelke’s “Happy like Hannah” slogan. According to associate head coach Jan Jensen — it’s the most fitting.
“You guys see it too, when she goes down and has a layup she just smiles,” Jensen said. “She gets a monster board — she turns up and smiles. She loves to play. If you ask her — her favorite time of the day is when we play in Carver.”
The origin story is probably the most organic too. A fan tweeted it out, and RAYGUN picked up on it.
“I’m just happy to be here.” Stuelke told me, with a smile on her face.
The Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team isn’t just “Caitlin Clark & friends.” But the RAYGUN phenomenon reflects on the level of fan interest in this team. And that’s how a t-shirt company and a special fan base are trailblazing the paths of NIL.
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