Category Archives: England National Team

The Business of Football Kits: Sponsorships, Technology, Branding and Beyond

As we enter the final few months leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the national teams taking part in the tournament have been unveiling their new kits to ride on the wave of growing interest in international football.

Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France have all released new kit designs for the summer, with various big-name sportswear companies and top international stars at the helm of high-profile launch events and flashy marketing campaigns. (The Mirror has a collection of some newly released kits here.)

As with most commercial activity in football, however, not all the recent kit launches have been met with universal acclaim: Ben Curtis’ article on the Mirror is a cynical rant at the hype machines that these events have become, while Lizzie Parry’s on the Daily Mail highlights just how expensive replica kits, launched over increasingly short time periods, have become.

In February, we explored the importance of stadiums in the overall commercial strategies of football clubs. As top-level football increasingly becomes big business and a huge revenue generator, let’s take a look at another money-spinning side to the sport: football kits.

 

Vincent Yu

 

Sponsorships

One of the first things that comes to mind when football kits are mentioned these days is the staggering amount of money they can generate for football clubs, both from the merchandising side and from the corporate sponsorship side.

While club merchandise is generally dependent on the popularity and on-pitch success of the clubs themselves—and the annual Deloitte Money League results generally attest to that—the larger context is the money that sportswear companies actually pay to be the official kit providers of football clubs.

In recent years, just in the Premier League, we’ve seen many instances of eye-watering commercial deals involving kit suppliers. Liverpool’s 2012 deal with Warrior Sports, the latter’s first foray into football, would, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, net the club at least £25 million a year.

Just this January, Arsenal announced they would be changing their kit maker from Nike to Puma, in a five-year deal reportedly worth more than £30 million a year, per the BBC. And, as ever when it comes to business deals, Manchester United shocked the world this March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which, according to Simon Mullock of the Mirror, will see the Old Trafford club earn more than £60 million a year.

Besides contracts with sportswear makers, the other big player in the football kit boom is the corporate sponsorship deals that have taken center stage in recent years. This 2013 J.J. Colao article in Forbes listed Manchester United, Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid as the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world.

Another interesting marketing tactic has been employed by Tottenham Hotspur this season, as they featured different sponsors on their shirts in different competitions, with Hewlett Packard their Premier League front and AIA their cup shirt partner. According to Kevin Palmer of ESPNFC, however, even Tottenham will revert to the traditional “principal partner” model at other big clubs, having agreed a lucrative £20 million-a-year deal with AIA for the next five years.

 

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Technology

But with all the money that goes into the kits, and their burgeoning price tags, do those who get to wear them actually benefit?

Specifically, do the footballers themselves get anything out of the constant kit changes, or are they just excuses to step in front of a camera for yet another photo shoot?

Just ask the Italian national team stars. According to the BBC, the high-tech football shirts they will be wearing at the World Cup this summer will be able to deliver massages during the game. The shirts contain a special tape that provides “micro-massages” for their wearers and “maximise muscle power” by allowing the body to recover from exertion more quickly.

Away from the luxury options provided to footballers these days, far more important is the shirts’ ability to keep their wearers warm in extreme cold temperatures. This article from PRNewswire.com lists a few examples of temperature-regulating technologies that are present in football shirts on the market.

Different sportswear manufacturers—the same who enter into the lucrative long-term contracts with football clubs and will rely on such technology to win such bids—integrate different functions into their shirts, but the underlying principles are the same: adding layers onto shirts that keep players comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the surrounding weather conditions.

With the digital space increasingly at the center of the football fan experience, besides featuring on shirts themselves, technology has also crept into the marketing side of football shirts and kit launches, so much so that organizing such events can be considered an industry in itself.

See, for example, this analysis on Liverpool’s new kit launch in 2012 on Dan McLaren’s TheUKSportsNetwork.com. Liverpool’s multichannel marketing and promotion strategy, across different social media platforms, was all about putting out a united front for the kit launch, which also had to match the club’s corporate branding.

But, as they’ve tended to do so in social media in general, Manchester City will take home the technology and marketing hybrid approach for football kits as well.

They’ve since switched to Nike as their main shirt sponsor, but City’s launch of their Umbro kits for the 2012/13 season, as covered here by SoccerBible.com, took fan engagement to a new level when they invited fans to decide how the new kit would be officially launched.

 

Ray Stubblebine

 

Branding

Using a new innovative campaign to bridge the marketing and technology worlds with branding in football was yet another Manchester City-affiliated project, New York City FC.

Since their official announcement in 2013, New York City FC have caught the attention with their cutting-edge digital-marketing campaigns despite the MLS outfit not yet officially competing in the U.S.’s highest-tier domestic football league.

NYCFC put their fans truly at the center of their business and branding strategy by inviting them to submit ideas for an official club crest, which was met with widespread acclaim and culminated in a win-win scenario where the club also got their hands on an excellent winner, shown here on the MLS official website.

An example of how the football kit itself has become more than just one of the components of a football club’s identity; it’s evolved into an integral part of the football club’s business strategy on the whole.

So eager have clubs and affiliated sponsors wanted to tap into their fanbase for merchandising dollars that they have begun creating hype cycles out of kit launches to boost profits and increase circulation among their followers—at the risk of straying into grey areas and stirring controversies.

In tandem with the ongoing, controversial narrative that football is becoming more and more middle- and upper-class and moving away from the traditional working-class fanbase that gave the sport its following and popularity, clubs and corporations have rushed into a branding frenzy and become eager to associate themselves as “premium” titles.

A major recent example was that of Adidas, who, according to Anna White of the Telegraph, may refuse to supply Sports Direct, one of the biggest sports retailers in the UK, with a variety of World Cup football kits due to concerns over its stores and customer service.

Said Adidas, “Like all manufacturers, we regularly review, season by season, where our products are distributed. We determine distribution channels for all products based on criteria such as in-store environment and customer service levels.”

In other words, sportswear manufacturers are eager for their football kits to be treated as premium consumer goods—indeed, the mooted £140 price tag for the new England kits by Nike almost automatically price themselves into that category—and they’re not afraid to incur the wrath of fans and middlemen retailers to achieve their commercial goals.

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Prior to the World Cup row, Adidas also landed themselves in hot water with Sports Direct over their treatment of Chelsea’s official club kit. In light of the public spat, Matt Scott of InsideWorldFootball.com put together an excellent and in-depth analysis of the changing role of the football kit itself.

Linking the state and rationale of Chelsea’s commercial and branding activities with the area’s wealthy and exclusive reputation, Scott consolidates a list of the London club’s highest-profile official sponsors, who all pride themselves on their elite stature within their respective industries.

The ever-changing face of the football kit, then, is not just an evolution of modern shirt design and an extension of clothing technology into sport, but is a reflection of a shift in the status of merchandise and football itself in the eyes of football clubs, manufacturers and sponsors.

And with seemingly unstoppable momentum behind money-spinning sponsorship deals, it seems that football kits will continue to be at the center of football’s paradigm shift. One only hopes that it doesn’t one day become only limited-edition items due to their exclusivity.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling Should Go to the World Cup

In light of the unfortunate news of Theo Walcott’s long-term injury, sustained in Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup and effectively ruling him out of the World Cup, as reported by BBC Sport, Roy Hodgson could be forgiven for feeling just a bit worried.

With Walcott out of contention and Jermain Defoe supposedly nearing a move to MLS’ Toronto FC, according to Sky Sports, the most experienced English forward Hodgson has at his disposal after Wayne Rooney is fellow Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, on 20 caps.

Other options available for selection include Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge (nine caps) and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert (four): not the most experienced or deepest forward line in England history by any stretch of the imagination.

The good news, however, is that England can make up for their shortage up front by strengthening their midfield and wings. A healthy mix of experience and youth in the midfield would now be grateful for an injection of quality ahead of the World Cup.

Step forward Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, who would provide just that. Here are five reasons they should make it into Roy Hodgson’s squad that will be heading to Brazil this summer.

 

Deserved Reward for Improvement

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Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesAsk any Liverpool fan about their best player this season, and second to Luis Suarez, who will deservedly take the plaudits from his scintillating record thus far, will be Jordan Henderson, who has been ever-present in Brendan Rodgers’ first team.

It wasn’t too long ago that Henderson was being written off as a £16 million flop, following a couple of indifferent seasons after his switch from Sunderland. That Rodgers was about to send him off to Fulham in the summer of 2012 is well-known; that Henderson has bounced back from all these setbacks is just as impressive.

Not only has Henderson finally found the confidence and form of his Sunderland days, but he’s seemingly added to his arsenal as well. Besides his legendary work rate and positional discipline, he’s added a touch of flair to his game as well: His back-heels, crosses and incisive passing have been a crucial element to the Reds’ final third; a record of five assists in 20 games thus far already betters his tally (four) last term.

The same applies to Raheem Sterling, who, besides storming back to the form he showed in the first few months of his debut season, has added a maturing awareness and clinicality to his game. Three goals and two assists in just nine starts this season is an impressive record for the young winger, still only 19.

In an England team short of full quality, what better than to reward these two up-and-coming talents with a place on the World Cup squad? Their development this season is evident; if they continue their rise in form and improve on their shortcomings—finishing is definitely on the agenda—then there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to make an impact in Brazil.

 

Youth, Energy and a Different Dimension

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Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesHere are a few of England’s regular midfielders and wingers: Steven Gerrard (captain), Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young. Others, like Tom Cleverley, Jack Wilshere and especially Adam Lallana and Andros Townsend are relative novices to the international scene.

The problem with the first-choice midfield, as we saw at Euro 2012, is that it’s not bursting at the seams with pace and stamina. Sure, Gerrard, Lampard and Carrick are all capable of dictating play from deep, and the former two are of course known for their ability to go forward and get themselves a goal, but it’s a midfield that can be caught out of position and brushed aside quite easily.

As evidenced by England’s recent international games, Roy Hodgson also recognizes the need to move away from the traditional two banks of four in a 4-4-2 system, which can easily be exploited by teams with powerful and quick midfields: Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica will pose an interesting challenge.

Even out on the wing, though he can also operate centrally, James Milner is not the fastest of players, and as such, he doesn’t offer as much of a cutting edge as Hodgson would like—even though his all-round contributions are important.

With the introduction of Henderson and Sterling, England would get two players with the pace and stamina to both pressure and hurt teams. While in Gerrard and Lampard, England possess two world-class set-piece specialists, adding youth, energy and pace that would allow the Three Lions to develop other areas of their game.

On a potential counterattack, which England should surely take full advantage of given their pacy forwards in Rooney and Sturridge, having a midfield runner like Henderson carry the ball on the floor, and having another winger like Sterling to break open the defence, would be valuable assets in Hodgson’s disposal.

 

Contributions to Overall Play

 

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Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesWhen it comes to the midfield area, an especially useful description these days is “complete.”

Predominantly defensive midfielders should be capable of nicking a goal here and there, and attack-minded ones should also be able to track back and do some of the dog work to alleviate pressure off his team.

While Young and Townsend are known for their relative speed, they also don’t do quite as much work for the team defensively and thus may be prone to leaving gaps out wide, leaving defensive burdens for England’s full-backs. Gerrard and Lampard have shown signs of their age catching up to them this season, and their forays forward may leave holes in the central area that opponents can exploit on the break.

It is here that Henderson and Sterling step in and offer their impressive blend of athleticism, technique and defensive work. Often played as the furthest forward midfielder in Brendan Rodgers’ setup, Henderson has been a fine second line of defence (after the excellent Suarez and his harrying up front), while Sterling has exhibited on many occasions this season his willingness to track back and an underrated tackling ability.

Add their potential contributions in attack (especially Sterling, with his well-timed runs in behind opposing defences), and they represent two fine all-round attacking players that would make for a well-balanced team. Milner and Wilshere also fit the mold and would be perfect partners in an interchangeable, dynamic midfield unit.

 

The Liverpool Connection

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Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesIn the summer of 2012, Roy Hodgson was widely ridiculed for his supposed preference for Liverpool players. After all, in his squad of 23, he included six Reds, and the likes of Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson hadn’t enjoyed the best of seasons at Anfield.

This time around, though, it’s completely different. While Glen Johnson hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons down Liverpool’s right, he should make the plane to Brazil barring any extraordinary circumstance. Otherwise, Steven Gerrard is the England captain and Daniel Sturridge one of their newest striking hopes.

So the Liverpool contingent in the England squad will likely be used heavily in Brazil, which makes Henderson and Sterling potentially important additions to the team.

Henderson’s partnership with Gerrard this season has caught the eye: The way Henderson has assumed Gerrard’s famed lung-busting and swashbuckling attacking midfield play, and the ease with which the Liverpool captain has assumed his registaduties, harks back to the famous Gerrard-Xabi Alonso partnership during Rafael Benitez’s halcyon days.

Sterling’s combination play with Johnson down the Reds’ right flank will also come in handy, while Henderson and Gerrard will have been used to Sterling’s runs off the shoulders of the last defender. It remains to be seen how Brendan Rodgers will juggle his attacking line once Sturridge returns to full fitness, but Sterling should also have plenty of chances to dovetail with Sturridge in the coming months.

 

Ushering in a New Golden Generation

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Michael Steele/Getty ImagesWhen the tag “Golden Generation” is mentioned in the context of the English national team, most reactions are of disappointment and frustration, such is the extent to which the current crop underwhelmed in major tournaments.

But it’s not that the term itself has any negative connotations—far from it. In fact, when the right infrastructure is put in place to groom a generation, it may well provide the platform from which to grow said “golden” era. The likes of Spain and Germany, not to mention many European club teams now, are living examples of such long-term thinking.

As Hodgson and England prepare for the swansongs of Gerrard and Lampard and usher out the old guard, so the new generation comes in and looks for ways to grow as a collective unit. And what better than to start with the World Cup?

Alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Ross Barkley (among others), Henderson and Sterling are in prime position to cement themselves as England regulars in the coming years as they continue to mature in international tournaments to come.

While England must look immediately at doing as best as they can in the World Cup, Hodgson would do well to start immersing some of his young, precocious talent in preparation for future competitions. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling this season, it’s that they certainly won’t let their manager down.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.