Category Archives: Tottenham Hotspur

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.

Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned from Anfield Rout

A Younes Kaboul own goal and goals from Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson handed Liverpool an impressive 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday, which saw the Reds climb back to the top of the Premier League once again.

Another flying start by Brendan Rodgers’ side saw Raheem Sterling combine well with Glen Johnson down the Liverpool right, forcing Kaboul to turn the ball into his own net. Suarez’s excellent left-footed finish after putting Michael Dawson under pressure deservedly doubled the Reds’ lead on 25 minutes.

Coutinho’s excellent low drive from range further extended the hosts’ dominance on 55 minutes, before Henderson’s free kick from the left flank evaded everyone in the Spurs box and sealed another Liverpool rout over Tottenham, following their five-goal demolition job at White Hart Lane back in December.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s excellent win. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts below.

 

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Jon Super

Take your pick from two well-worn cliches in the sports world: “The best defence is offence” or “Defence wins championships.”

Whichever your preference—and while Sunday’s result by no means confirmed anything in terms of the Premier League title race just yet—Liverpool showed both offensive drive and defensive steel against Tottenham, much like the reverse fixture in December.

Jon Flanagan bounced back from a quiet couple of weeks with a performance full of heart, commitment and excellently timed tackles, while Glen Johnson put in an admirable defensive shift, albeit against a toothless Spurs left.

Simon Mignolet was on hand to make a few crucial but routine stops—including an excellent left-handed parry of Christian Eriksen’s deflected shot in the dying minutes—to keep what was a rare clean sheet for Liverpool this season.

Martin Skrtel had one of his almost flawless performances featuring a few blockbuster last-ditch blocks. Even Daniel Agger, normally in the “cool, calm and collected” school of defending, saw fit to put in a few flying blocks of his own.

The clean defensive performance, which was admittedly due to a disappointing Spurs display, will be one of the key points stressed by Brendan Rodgers to replicate in the end-of-season run-in.

 

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But enough about the defence: Besides keeping a second successive clean sheet against Tottenham this season, Liverpool have again hit four goals with no reply in the Premier League this season, making it 11 matches this season where they have scored at least four goals.

Even more encouraging for both Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike will be Glen Johnson’s return to fitness—and, it seems, to a level almost touching his flying best. It was Johnson’s run behind the Spurs defence that led to Liverpool’s early opening goal and one that fully illustrated his valuable contributions to the Reds attack.

And in reverting to his tried and trusted 4-3-3, Brendan Rodgers started Raheem Sterling on the right, which paid dividends both in the final third and also on the defensive end. The young winger, who by now must surely be on the plane to Brazil this summer, was a constant menace to the Tottenham defence, while a physical duel with Mousa Dembele before his substitution—which he won—was a sign of his growing confidence and maturity.

Johnson’s dovetailing with Sterling down the right made it once again Liverpool’s preferred attacking outlet, even while the hapless Kyle Naughton started as right-back on the opposite side of the pitch.

Pablo Zabaleta and Seamus Coleman, step aside—if Johnson and Sterling keep up their performances on both ends of the pitch, they’ll comfortably win any award for the Premier League’s best right flank.

 

Familiarity Breeds Success

Familiarity Breeds Success

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Mamadou Sakho’s return from injury was announced, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for wanting him to go straight back into the starting XI, with Daniel Agger not being at his domineering best this season.

When Lucas made a first-team comeback as well, many wanted him to return as the midfield anchor, releasing Steven Gerrard of his holding and controlling duties at the base of the Reds midfield and allowing the captain to push further up the park.

Instead, Rodgers has chosen to stick by and large with a starting lineup that has served him so well, if not entirely in defensive solidity then at least in results, only sacrificing Joe Allen for Sterling.

Besides the Allen/Sterling change, this was the same lineup that started Liverpool’s previous few victories, allowing them to have built up a winning momentum and a growing sense of confidence, which was increasingly apparent as the match wore on.

In sticking with a winning team, despite having other strong contenders on the bench, Rodgers has gone with familiarity, both as a sign of his confidence in his team and as a reward to those players who have served him well amidst the previous injury problems.

 

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It was the Allen/Sterling change, though, that reflected a return to the 4-3-3 formation that had been used to such excellent effect at times this season. (Lest we forget, the 4-4-2 diamond was, of course, a formation ushered in partly out of desperation.)

Liverpool played like they’d never even thought about veering away from their original 4-3-3, such was the fluency in their build-up and possession play, while Coutinho once again impressed as the most advanced member of the midfield trio.

Not that they played the entire match as a 4-3-3, though: Rodgers’ two substitutions between the 64th and 70th minutes meant that Allen and Lucas did come on to replace Coutinho and Gerrard, and Sterling was pushed back into the middle to revert to the 4-4-2 diamond.

In doing so, the home side displayed yet another trait it’s developed this season: a tactical flexibility that has allowed it to approach different opponents in different ways.

The Liverpool players have become so comfortable with each other and with Rodgers’ possession-based attacking philosophy that they’ve taken every formation change almost like a duck to water, and this can only bode well for the rest of their title-chasing season.

And it paid off spectacularly.

 

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Spare a thought for Tottenham Hotspur, as not only did their players not seem to have a game plan in mind, but their head coach also seemed to have lost his fiery passion for which he’s been so famous.

A 60th-minute double substitution aside, Tim Sherwood didn’t appear to take any initiative to improve his side’s fortunes, and he cut a lone figure in the Spurs director’s box as the match wilted away from a Tottenham point of view.

According to BBC Sport, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal is reportedly on his way to White Hart Lane as Spurs’ new manager after this summer’s World Cup. Judging from Sherwood’s demeanor, he might well feel like a dead man walking, with his opportunity to impress at the Spurs helm limited in the end to less than a full season.

In the meantime, however, a host of Tottenham players have been frozen out—the likes of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho have been left out in favor of the youngster Nabil Bentaleb—and the lack of cohesion on the Anfield pitch on Sunday will have made for some jarring watching for Spurs fans.

Having spent in excess of £100 million in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure, Tottenham were supposed to mount at least a strong challenge for fourth. Instead, they’ve lost all their league matches against the Premier League top four this season (barring a home draw against Chelsea in late September) and their season is well and truly unraveling.

Plenty of work to be done in the summer.

 

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

Jon Super

By notching their 22nd win of the Premier League season, Liverpool return to the top of the table in emphatic fashion, two points above Chelsea after the Blues’ shocking loss at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

While Manchester City have two games in hand and would yet reclaim the top spot with two wins out of two, the reality remains that Liverpool’s fortunes for the season are entirely in their own hands now.

From this point forward, if the Reds win all six of the remaining fixtures on their schedule, they will be crowned Premier League champions since both Chelsea and City have yet to visit Anfield.

For the first time in many a season, Liverpool only have themselves to worry about, without having to hope for rivals dropping points before they can look to capitalize.

Brendan Rodgers will know that this is a key advantage for his team in the run-in, but as usual, he will be stressing the need to keep calm and focus on the next game.

Bring on West Ham United.

 

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

Andre Villas-Boas: 8 Things His Sacking Means for Tottenham Hotspur

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

His face during the game and after the final whistle said it all: Andre Villas-Boas was a man on borrowed time. And on Monday morning, a day after a 5-0 thrashing to Liverpool at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur have confirmed the sacking of the Portuguese coach.

This news comes in a Premier League of increasing turbulence: Villas-Boas himself was only appointed Chelsea manager some two-and-a-half years ago, fired by Roman Abramovich just a year and nine months ago and brought to Tottenham a season and a half ago.

And now he’s found himself out of a job. Again.

While Villas-Boas will surely be wondering whether or not he will get another chance to manage in the Premier League, let’s look at eight things his dismissal means for Tottenham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Sad End for Tottenham’s Winningest-Ever Coach

Surprise!

It might not seem it, what with the media, pundits and fans questioning his ability, but with 29 wins, 12 draws and 13 losses, Andre Villas-Boas is actually Tottenham’s winningest-ever coach in their history, with a win percentage of 53.7, according to the Telegraph.

Yes, conceding a whopping 11 goals to two teams in quick succession—which makes up almost a sixth of his entire goals against record at White Hart Lane—makes for terrible reading, but before we dissect the other implications of his removal at Spurs, we should take a moment and recognize the work that he has done as their manager.

Not only does he possess their most successful managerial record, but he also steered the club to fifth place last season, narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification, and is now actually only eight points off Arsene Wenger’s league-leading Arsenal, despite having sold Gareth Bale in the summer.

All this in an ever-increasing Premier League, which has also seen increasingly cut-throat approaches adopted by rival clubs to ensure that they stay ahead of (or at least in close competition with) the pack.

 

Premier League Chairmen Don’t Like Their Egos Bruised

Anyone who had any doubt that AVB’s career at White Hart Lane was in trouble during their hammering to Liverpool will have had their suspicions confirmed if they saw the facial expressions of Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy on Sunday.

Of course this hurt: Spurs were hosting one of their rivals this season for a top-four spot—and before this season, Liverpool were seen as having fallen even out of the top six that had inaugurated the hosts as a new member.

What Levy saw unfolding before his eyes was a statement of intent, a demolition job brought about by a manager with a well-defined philosophy. What Levy witnessed was a disintegration of his dreams in front of him.

Add the humiliating defeat to Manchester City just a few weeks before and it became clear that no matter how close Spurs would still be after finishing the match with no points taken, losing to clubs considered as rivals would turn out to be too much.

Never mind that Spurs had only ever qualified once for the Champions League, despite their status as top-four pretenders. Never mind that big games with rivals only account for a small proportion of your points every season.

This was a result that hurt, and in the eyes of Levy and owner Joe Lewis, something had to be done.

 

Momentum Can Also Go the Other Way

It was just a month ago that Tottenham had one of the meanest defensive records in the country, having conceded six goals in 11 league games, but a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium kickstarted a downward spiral that has seen them ship 17 goals in five matches.

While the official Tottenham Hotspur Twitter feed announced in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat that their “unbeaten run in December came to an abrupt halt,” the reality was that they had won unconvincingly at two clubs struggling near the foot of the table.

A defence torn to shreds by Manchester City perhaps opened the door to confusion, panic and self-questioning in the Spurs defence, and they haven’t been the same since.

Just this March, Villas-Boas had proclaimed that Arsenal, who were trailing Spurs by seven points then, were in a “negative spiral in terms of results,” as reported by BBC Sport, and that “to get out of that negative spiral is extremely difficult.”

He’s now found that out himself. “Momentum” is always brought up in a run of positive results; alas, it can also go the other way.

 

Gareth Bale Was, in the End, Too Big a Loss

Twenty-one goals and four assists in 34 league games.

So goes the record of the current holder of the most expensive transfer fee in football history.

But Gareth Bale, to Tottenham Hotspur, was about more than just goals and assists: He was the face of a young and ambitious team led by a young and ambitious manager. He was even the face of the Premier League in NBC Sports’ high-profile marketing and build-up of their EPL coverage in the U.S. for the season.

And on the pitch, Bale represented that missing link—that all-important attacking player who was capable of influencing play from deep and transitioning seamlessly from defence to attack.

On paper, when the players who were brought in eventually signed, they would make up for Bale’s goals and assists as a collective. We all know how it has turned out in practice.

So besides all the other ominous warning signs on show on Sunday, Liverpool’s thrashing was also symbolic in that it was led by their new stand-in skipper Luis Suarez—a player who had threatened to leave Anfield the way Bale so spectacularly quit Tottenham.

Suarez hit two goals right out of the top drawer. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale kept doing his stuff in sunny Spain. Two different worlds, one “coulda woulda shoulda” scenario.

 

Instability Is a Constant at a Selling Club

Chairman Levy’s relentless ambition and ruthless ways have served Spurs in memorable ways down the years. Their astute £8 million capture of Rafael van der Vaart in 2010 was one of the finest transfer coups in Premier League history and, not so long ago, Hugo Lloris at the same price last summer was considered another fine example of Levy’s transfer acumen.

But on the flipside stands perhaps the underlying reason for such bargain hunts: The recent sales of the talismanic Luka Modric, van der Vaart and Bale have presented Spurs as an unstable selling club, and this reputation looks to have been enhanced.

It might be a hallmark of a rapidly evolving and rising club, but the constant chopping and changing of both managers and players will not install the sense of stability that is sorely needed even in the corporate world.

That things are different at White Hart Lane is a reminder that patience is a prerequisite after all, and too much change might not actually be a good thing. Other Premier League clubs would do well to take note.

 

You Can Actually Have Too Many Good Players

“You can never have too many good players,” so the football cliche goes. Players in form and players of great ability give managers selection headaches; the more the merrier, right?

If the situation at Tottenham is anything to go by, the answer to that is a resounding no.

We mentioned the prospect of having a group of new signings collectively replace Bale’s importance at Spurs. The very idea of it is appealing and also effectively mitigates the risk of concentrating the club’s fortunes on one single player, but the way it has been carried out has been horribly miscalculated.

We only need to look at the bench on Sunday, where record signing Erik Lamela was yet again kicking his heels (or not), and at Villas-Boas’ constant rotation of his midfield to guess that they simply have too big a roster of midfielders to be able to build any sort of continuity in the starting XI.

In a league that’s becoming more and more about midfield partnerships and dynamic movement, the infamous rotation at Tottenham has become a textbook example of why not to stockpile players in one position.

Perhaps we should just amend that age-old adage then: “You can never have too many good defenders when your first choice backline is injured.” Poor Etienne Capoue was hapless out of position as a makeshift central defender.

 

Did AVB Actually Learn from His Time at Chelsea?

A few months after his arrival at Tottenham, Andre Villas-Boas proclaimed that he had learned from his tough spell at Stamford Bridge, as reported by the Mirror, and the general feeling after his first few interviews and press conferences was that he had learned to open up to the media to get them on his side.

This was a new, softer AVB, they said. This was a less obstinate, a more open-minded AVB, they said. This was a great chance for him to prove that Chelsea and Roman Abramovich were a one-off, a mere blip in his bright career, they said.

A year later, according to BBC Sport, the same new AVB was sat in his chair getting involved in a high-profile spat with journalists over a few columns questioning his pedigree as a manager that he didn’t agree with.

Whether or not such accusations were fair is a discussion best left to the past, but by that time, it wasn’t just his methods of dealing with the press that had remained unchanged. His persistence with a physical midfield and a high defensive line had started to become major weaknesses and areas for opposing teams to exploit.

A strong, physical and energetic midfield that was supposed to provide a base for a budding Spurs attack had become an unimaginative source of creativity and the reason for a chronic lack of goals.

 

What Next for Tottenham?

It’s all well and good dissecting the ramifications of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking and the messages it sends about Tottenham Hotspur, but as in any big footballing decisions, what matters most is how the club moves forward.

And in this case, though to a certain extent his departure was inevitable and understandable, there will be bigger things on Daniel Levy’s mind as he begins to contemplate life without his head coach.

Finding a manager with a pedigree and CV—or an ambitious vision and grand plan, as AVB once had—is hard enough to do, but finding one that can work within the constraints of a perennial Europe-chasing selling club and with a ruthless chairman and director of football is near impossible.

Unlike at Chelsea, where Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti had established an impressive winning record that proved too difficult to replicate, Andre Villas-Boas arrived at Tottenham to find a club striving to challenge for Europe but with the expectations of a top-four club.

Never mind the lack of available names in the market now; the job itself is fast becoming one of the most stressful in English football.

 

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