I heard a rumour

By Stuart Fuller


Around about Christmas every year there are rumours and “leaked pictures” of the new England football shirts.  With some decent Photoshop skills and a basic grasp of some design software, anyone can produce an image of a football shirt.  Once these are “leaked” onto the Internet via Social Media, the speculation begins.  The official announcement from The Football Association and Nike is not due to happen for a few weeks, with both the new home and away shirts due to hit the shops around Easter, just in time for the European Football Championships in the summer so rumours will continue as to whether the images are the real deal or simply computer-designed fakes.

The website, Footy Headlines, seemed pretty sure that the images that have appeared so far are indeed fakes.  Their evidence is based on the fact that Nike, who have paid £25million a year since 2013 to supply all of England's national football teams, are unlikely to use such a generic design at a high-profile tournament like Euro 2016.

In May 2013, the Football Association unveiled its new five year kit deal for the England national team with Nike.  Since that announcement they have launched new kits every year, much to the annoyance of England fans.  The cost and frequency of change of football shirts are a huge bone of contention with consumer groups, supporters and parents alike, with questions being asked as high as in the Palace of Westminster.
England’s latest kit deal, worth approximately £25million per annum, is the second most valuable national team deal ever signed behind the current Nike deal with the French Football Association.  With unit sales in excess of one million in regular years, rising to three million prior to a major tournament, you can understand the economic sense in refreshing the design.

Back in 2014, the launch of the new kit also saw retail prices hit an eye-watering £90 for some versions of the shirt. Unsurprisingly, the cost was criticised from every angle.  The then Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford said on the launch of the new kit “The game of football seems to be increasingly about profit and commercialism rather than the community and the fans, who have sustained football for many generations."
The Football Association immediately responded, absolving themselves of any blame, by saying that "The FA's policy is to avoid any involvement with how its partners/licensees set their prices, so as to avoid any risk of or implications of price fixing”

Whilst it is only the “deluxe” version of the shirt that sold at the high level (and likely to be the same for the new version due to be released in the next few weeks), the standard shirt’s recommended retail price was still 20% higher than we have seen before at £60.  Sports shirts manufacturers have invested heavily in recent years to incorporate the most modern design features and materials into their products, as well as explicitly targeting shirt counterfeiters who have become smarter and more determined.

Unfortunately, it took just a few hours before counterfeit shirts started appearing on marketplace sites, selling for just a fraction of the excessive £90 official price tag.  These marketplace sellers offer quantities in excess of 100 units at a time, spreading the counterfeit items quickly across the world.  Anyone who has been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the Night Market in Marrakesh or even Las Ramblas in Barcelona cannot have failed to have seen the thousands of football shirts on sale, some looking more authentic than others.

Football shirts are not like Gucci handbags or Hermes scarves.  They are not luxury items.  They are lifestyle items.  If someone buys a fake football shirt they are still pledging their allegiance to a brand, or in this case country or football club - an England football fan is hardly likely to decide to support France and buy a French football top simply because of a price tag. With one in six products sold today being counterfeit and in the UK alone counterfeits cost our economy over $40billion, news of the new shirts will undoubtedly drive these number up in the short term.

In my experience of both consumer behaviour and being a fan I would say that football at its most basic level of wanting to show support for a team or country is as binary as it could be – I am no less of a fan if I buy the premium priced shirt or a normal priced one.
The final word comes from Football author Mark Perryman:-

"Commercially, if you go back through history, the most successful England shirts in terms of sales have been the ones from periods when England are doing well.” 

After the way the team qualified for the tournament and some of the exciting young players that will be on show, perhaps this may well be a bumper summer for everyone involved.