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Jul 20, 2016

How independent sports retailers can leverage the Leicester Effect

By Paul Clapham


“This is bigger than sport. It’s a life affirming story.” So said Richard Scudamore, executive chairman of the Premier League, after Leicester City had become champions on May 2.

He went on to say: “It gives everybody a whole lot of hope. It can’t be an economic argument. It’s been achieved by something else. That something is clearly team spirit.”

Scudamore’s words were, quite reasonably, focused on the Premier League. But you could apply the rationale down through every tier of football, indeed every team sport. The basic message is simple - it isn’t just about money - and that’s a great message for every player, team and club in the country.

Benefit from the feel good factor
How does a sports retailer take advantage of the ‘Leicester Effect’? Outside the East Midlands, it may not last for too long. In the meantime, it is sport’s worldwide story, with added feel good factor. So aim to exploit it.

First of all, players of every team sport will surely be saying to themselves: ‘If Leicester can do it, we can do it.” Regardless of the level they are playing at, players have a dream and the Leicester Effect will boost that. The word dream, you will have noted, came into the Leicester story on a regular basis.

Coaches, again from the lowest level upwards, will be telling the same thing to their players. I predict sports enthusiast parents will be doing likewise. Head teachers, indeed all teachers, will be using the Leicester City analogy for why and how the underdog can become top dog. So perhaps the story will stay live for a long time.

But will that sell a single pair of boots? I suggest it will. If newspapers are to be believed, every fan, player, father of a young player and so on wants a slice of the Leicester action. Nor does that stop at Dover.

The presence of Shinzi Okazaki in the side and the fact that all the club’s games have been shown live on TV have made Leicester City a very big deal in Japan, which has a population of around 125 million.

Back in Britain, the underlying virtues of Leicester City will get the parental and grand parental credit card out rather faster, I suggest, than the preening preciousness of many other stars in the Premier League and elsewhere.

Those in their teens and twenties, who are spending their own money, are likelier still to be seduced by the Leicester story. The vast majority already know they are not and never will be the next Ronaldo. But they can look at Jamie Vardy and say to themselves: “He was playing non-league football not so long ago and now he’s a Premier League winner and England player.”

Any of us might scoff, but who is to deny a young man his dream? More than that, the Leicester story says his dream can come true.

‘Impossible is nothing’ started life as a resume in America. It went viral and has been used by all sorts of people as a motivator, not least in the sports trade by adidas. Leicester were 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the season, which is the bookies’ idea of impossible. adidas marketing people ought to be kicking each other for missing this one. Or maybe someone at the company had £500 or so of its massive UK marketing budget on Leicester City.

Sales opportunities
For the retailer and owners of smaller brands, Leicester’s success offers another opportunity. As above, success is not just about spending big money. You have the opportunity to sell what you are convinced is the better product, rather than the one with the big marketing budget and higher price tag to go with it. You may also wish to tell customers that those two facts are linked.

This is obviously subject to maintaining gross margin per sale, but if that is generally achievable, consider the benefits. The customer gets an equally good or better product for a lower price (very Leicester City). It doesn’t break down or fail to last the season (very Leicester City), while sports fans now believe a small brand that was off their radar can be as good as a big one (very Leicester City).

Better than that, being ‘very Leicester City’ will win you a fine reputation in your catchment area. Yours is the store where the owner does the best deal for a customer, rather than just trying to sell the highest price product. You will be selling your own expertise, rather than just a supplier’s marketing story, sound though that may be. Word will get around that if you want the best deal, the best treatment and very often a better price, go to Smith’s Sports.

Walking the walk
But don’t just wait for that to happen. This is a marketing opportunity that won’t wait forever for you to climb aboard. First of all, are you very Leicester City? I can think of some retailers who talk the talk, but you definitely need to walk the walk to make this one work.

That starts with Richard Scudamore’s point about team spirit. It ought to be a fundamental element in the staff management of a sports retailer, but if you haven’t got it, you are not very Leicester City at all.

In the same way, do you know how to recruit to the best effect? To create team spirit, you need team players. One Kevin Pietersen could damage all your efforts in this area. Consider looking for a one-day course locally that could give you better skills in this area.

But if you can claim to be very Leicester City, it’s an ideal case for featuring on your website and for working social media. Unless you are a genuine, dyed in the wool Foxes fan, don’t even consider saying so. Nevertheless, on your website you could say you’ve become a fan because they run their club like you aim to run your business. That’s totally valid.

The social media platforms are abuzz with the Leicester story, and no wonder. It’s the natural place to share stories about the star I used to know, the one whose Mini I service, the ex-teacher of mine who is now one of their assistant managers and so on.

But this also lends itself to telling everyone why you have adopted the Leicester City ethos and how that benefits the customer. Some of this is about your staff, what you do to help them enjoy their jobs and how that helps the business, not least the message that happy staff do their jobs better and customers like to be surrounded by happy people.

Big is no longer beautiful
Then there is the ‘big is no longer beautiful’ angle. I’ve commented here before that this applies increasingly in all areas of retailing. People no longer feel any sense of engagement with the monsters.

The same can now be said of football clubs. People from across the globe have been buying the Leicester shirt, people who couldn’t point to the city on a map and whose only connection with the club is that they like them, admire them. Nice guys do win.

Final point. If you should happen to sponsor a local club or team and they win a trophy, buy all the fans who turn up for the final game a beer from a local brewery. What great PR and it could go far wider than your immediate area. Very Leicester City.

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