With a new football season comes another round of replica kits supplied by the usual suspects - and a new player in the market. Adrian Hill reports
For many Premier League fans, there’s an unofficial 20th match on their season ticket packages. This fixture is the annual purchase of a replica shirt.
The fashionistas may cringe at how an often garish piece of man-made fibre can be so prized. Yet, to a loyal supporter, wearing their colours with pride through the thick and thin of a nine-month season is as much a part of the ritual as singing club songs and buying a half-time cuppa.
And it’s all worth a lot of money to a collection of, let’s face it, sporting organisations that are hardly on their uppers financially. Chelsea and Manchester United each sold three million shirts last season worldwide which, with adult shirts retailing in the UK at £50-60 each, creates a huge amount of cash.
The wealthy club owners are happy, the manufacturers are happy and as for the shirt sponsors, millions of walking advertising hoardings around the globe is a very handy asset to have.
Smaller fry swim with the big fish in these waters. Surprise packages Bournemouth have loyally stuck with JD Sports, which was previously associated with the Cherries under its Carbrini label, and Swansea City have ditched adidas for Spanish brand Joma this season.
Eye catching entrant
Perhaps the most eye catching entrant into the arena for 2016-17 though is Dryworld. Watford have plumped for the little known Canadian company after four seasons with Puma.
Spencer Field, the club’s commercial director, says: “We’re delighted to partner with Dryworld, who share our desire to innovate and compete with the biggest organisations in our industries.
“As the largest sponsorship deal in the club’s history, this relationship is representative of the dramatic growth in the commercial appeal of Watford Football Club.
“As we continue to grow as a club, both on and off the field, it’s imperative we work with companies who are ambitious and forward thinking.”
Cutting edge provider
Dryworld, founded in Victoria, British Columbia by Canadian rugby players Matt Weingart and Brian McKenzie, is only six years old and sees itself as a cutting edge provider that’s summed up by its ‘Dream. Defy. Deliver’ tagline.
The company made its mark with its DRYFLEET oversleeve worn over rugby boots, which it says ensures 95 per cent of the moisture taken on board was spirited away, enabling players to carry significantly less weight on their feet.
Its base layer range, Aggression Apparel, has also earned plaudits, but now Dryworld enters into a new realm.
Craig Stewart, Dryworld’s director of global operations, says: “We see it as a route to market. We are a technology company whose main purpose is producing innovative and purposeful products.
“We decided to go into football in March and linked up with Dewhirst as our supplier, who also work with Nike. We met with Watford and they said they had achieved more in three hours than they had in three years with Puma.”
Stewart would not be drawn on the financials of the deal, only willing to say the sum involved: “Is very fair for access to the equivalent of £20 million-plus advertising revenue.”
The company has also signed deals with Championship side Queens Park Rangers and Brazilian football clubs Goias, Atletico Mineiro and Fluminense, but there is an intangible.
Establishing the brand
However technologically sound, innovative and even pleasing to the eye the shirt is, Dryworld’s battle is to establish its brand in a ferocious market populated by behemoths with who passionate supporters identify. Some may almost wear the manufacturer’s logo with as much pride as their club’s.
Stewart admits: “Watford fans are expecting big things after last season and the initial reaction to the kit launch has been a mixed bag, with a poll of 500 supporters coming out 64 per cent in favour. We want to offer Watford and their fans service and a bespoke element to the kit.”
The Vicarage Road side do not have the profile of the big guns and Dryworld says it and Watford will be happy to sell 20,000 shirts, with the prospect of more in key markets where they have a presence based on players signed by the club, particularly in Africa, thanks to the performance of Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo.
Watford and QPR are the first staging posts for Dryworld, with four more British teams likely to be signed up for the 2017-18 season and negotiations ongoing with Italian giants Lazio. A new and potentially lucrative market has a Dryworld client in the shape of Indian Super League club Delhi Dynamos, now coached by Italy legend Gianluca Zambrotta.
At the moment, though, nothing compares to having a presence in the most watched football league in the world and that’s why kit deals and broadcasting contracts attract astronomical sums.
adidas is entering the second of a 10-year agreement with Manchester United for which it’s paying a whopping £750 million.
The brand with the three white stripes is the dominant force in the market currently, having sewn up contracts with not only United, but continental giants Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and, most recently, Italian champions Juventus.
Premier League lesser lights Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough are also donning adidas kits this season.
The only major player in terms of global shirt sales missing from the adidas collection is Barcelona, who are part of a Nike stable that also includes Manchester City and Paris St Germain. According to sports marketing company Euromericas, 3.6 million Barcelona shirts were sold worldwide between the start of last season and April this year.
Chelsea and Tottenham will join this particular club in 2017. The London giants are to jettison adidas and Under Armour respectively to enter into deals with Nike.
Puma has a foothold in this lucrative arena with an arrangement with Arsenal that began in 2014. The company also won the kit manufacturing lottery last season, as unheralded Leicester City ran away with the title in their Puma designed kit.
This season the champions will be sporting a splash of gold as a mark of their achievement on their blue home kit and a new all white design in which the Foxes will look like Real Madrid on their travels when they compete in the Champions League for the first time.
If another of Puma’s clients, newly promoted Burnley, do a Leicester this season, the brand really will be in the realms of fantasy.
The other traditional heavyweight in the market, Umbro, has the honour of supplying West Ham - for their first season playing at London’s Olympic Stadium - Hull and Everton, with who they signed a five-year deal in 2014.
The new Toffees shirt features a unique design - a tribute to their famous Goodison Park stadium, with the coordinates of the ground in the back of the neck of the top.
Macron & New Balance
Italian brand Macron will have its logo emblazoned on kits worn by Crystal Palace and Stoke City, having ousted New Balance from the Potteries. New Balance is hardly weeping into its polyesters, though, with a lucrative deal with Liverpool one of the jewels in the American company’s portfolio. The Reds provide immense exposure in the Far East, thanks to their huge fan base in that region.
Under Armour entered the Premier League with Tottenham five years ago and although Spurs will leave the brand after this season, Under Armour has lured Southampton away from adidas. As a parting gift to Spurs, Under Armour innovatively launched its final kit for the White Hart Lane outfit on Facebook, a first for the club.