Last year saw the launch of the BBC’s annual Cost of Football survey which once again leads to lots of back-slapping, table thumping and general head scratching at the costs fans have to pay to watch and engage with their teams.
Whilst some of this year’s headlines will focus on the first drop in ticket pricing in some areas for the first time in a long time, primarily due to an agreed cap in prices for away ticket sales, you cannot ignore the numbers relating to the cost of football shirts. Newport County Football Club have probably never been top of many league tables, but according to the survey, they sell the cheapest current replica shirt at £37.50 out of the 92 clubs playing in the professional game today. At the other end of the scale, the two Manchester clubs sell the most expensive replica adult shirt at £60.
Whilst the cost of football shirts is not a new tub-thumping topic, you can understand some of the outrage today at these figures. Whilst the actual of producing the shirts is a closely guarded secret by the manufacturers, it is highly unlikely to be more than 20% of the sale price. It is no mystery in many instances, however, about the amounts that clubs are receiving from shirt sponsorship and the deals with the shirt manufacturers.
The news that Chelsea have signed a new kit deal with Nike for a reported £60 million A SEASON once again puts into perspective how money is dominating the highest level of our national game. The Blues terminated their existing deal with adidas six years early in what can have only been a purely money-motivated move (that deal was rumoured to be “just” £30 million a year) to sign the deal with Nike for the next fifteen years, which will see them earn £900 million (assuming there are no other bonus elements for winning cups) – read more about the Chelsea deal here.
Football shirts are not like Gucci handbags or Hermes scarves. They are not luxury items. They are lifestyle items. Yet they are priced as such. Some brands will say that the reason why the shirts are priced so high is as a direct result of the problem of counterfeiting. Is that fair? This is a Catch 22 situation – the more a manufacturer invests in the production process to try and defeat the counterfeiters, the higher the retail price is set which will drive more people to but an inferior but lower cost counterfeit.
One in six products sold today is counterfeit. In the UK alone it is an industry worth over $20billion. This number continues to rise every year despite attempts by companies such as NetNames to scour the Internet, find the infringing items and removing the offending websites or online sellers from the web. However, with money still tight in many households, high-ticket desirable items such as the football shirts fuel the growth in counterfeiting.
Manufacturers state that the prices are being driven up by counterfeiters, not realising that by increasing their prices they make the issue worse. They claim that the effect of buying fake ‘knock off’ goods has a ‘knock on’ effect on the price of legitimate products. Every pound, euro or dollar spent on counterfeits is a pound, euro or dollar not spent with the brand owner, reducing the savings from economies of scale that can be passed on to the consumer. Production costs, support costs, marketing costs and legal costs are all higher, which the brand owner must pass on to the consumer – a double whammy. However, in the football shirt world it seems that the price tag is high because they know irrespective of the purchase price, the demand for the product is already there. A Liverpool football fan is hardly likely to decide to support arch rival Everton and buy a Blues football top simply because of a price tag. They will simply seek a cheaper “fix”. A football fan with £20 to spend on a shirt will spend £20 on a shirt whether it is a fake or not in most cases.
It’s not hard to find counterfeit football shirts. Many of us will have seen them for same in tourist destinations or street markets – even at first glance you can see they are inferior quality either by spelling mistakes on the sponsor name or even the club badge itself whilst a simple search on a number of market place websites such as Taobao reveals shirts for most major clubs in frightening volumes.
So what is the answer? We’ve seen that fan power does has an impact on the costs associated with football from the agreement that away tickets in the Premier League are capped at the moment at £30. Perhaps a similar campaign could force the club’s and the manufacturers to reduce the price of replica shirts? They need to be as a part of the solution as they are in the problem. Educating fans about the social costs of counterfeiting is also a step in the right direction, especially targeting the fans of tomorrow with purchasing power.
This is one aspect that the International Trademark Association (INTA) have been focusing on through its Unreal campaign which aims to educate 16-18 year old on the dangers, both real and hidden of buying counterfeits. Sporting goods and equipment such as replica football shirts are very much in these consumer’s eyes and so trying to spell out the ethical and criminal nature of counterfeits and the effects it has on society as a whole can only be a good thing. However, it still needs the manufacturers to do their part too – they need to also educate consumers on the costs and dangers as well as ways by which counterfeits can be reported.
Nothing really changes in football, nor in any other sport. Despite what many commentators will tell you, it’s no longer a beautiful game. Clubs are commercial entities with shareholders and owners to deliver a return to. Fans are brand ambassadors whose loyalty is often measured on how much they spend on branded merchandise rather than if they can remember who scored the FA Cup 3rd round winner back in 1972.