By David Fleenor – It does not matter what you call it, a replica jersey, official jersey, authentic jersey, or even a ‘why-is-my-club-sticking-it-to-me-with-this-over-priced-piece-o’-s**t-again-this-season-but-that-I-have-to-buy-jersey’, there is no argument that the licensed sportswear business has boomed since it was first introduced back in 1974. Sales top a billion $’s annually and show no sign of slowing down yet ironically the surge in sales according to some reports have slowed innovations.
The first date in this long love affair was back in 1974. Bert Patrick, a name you probably have never heard before and possible will never again, was the chairman of a knitwear company, Admiral. Patrick started courting Don Revie then manager of Leeds United and shortly thereafter the England national team with the proposal that Admiral would provide the team jersey in exchange for the Admiral logo on the jersey and right to exclusively sell the jersey to supporters.
Patrick completed a deal with Leeds United, the most successful English club team of the 1970’s, to make their away jersey and track suit in 1973 and followed it up the following year with the deal to provide apparel for the England national team that saw Admiral paying the Football Association (FA) £15,000 a year for the right. The brand signed other clubs – Manchester United, West Ham United, Stoke City, Sheffield United, Queens Park Rangers, Luton Town, Swindon Town, and Scunthorpe United – in the early 1970’s
“I saw an opportunity for fans to wear the same kit as the team,” Patrick said in a 2014 interview with the Telegraph. “We had recently won the World Cup and it was the advent of colour television, so I thought the interest would be there for us to design more colourful shirts.”
It was a more innocent time in the 1970’s.
The team jersey was most frequently worn by children and were frequently home-made by buying a shirt the color of your local team and having mom sew on a team badge. These looked ‘official’ since even the players were wearing unbranded shirts frequently a solid color and with no sponsorship logos.
Adult fans would not think of pulling on a jersey and go out in public but tended to take the team scarf to show his allegiance at the ground.
The opportunity to control the rights to a team jersey arose from the 1968 Copyright Act which gave companies the rights to protect specific designs of sports apparel.
The idea of brands buying the right to a team jersey was not embraced by everyone at the time, however. The late Lord Islwyn, then Roy Hughes and Labour MP brought the issue to Parliament saying, “The most unpleasant aspect is that children are being exploited. One of the principal offenders appears to be [Admiral], the chairman of which is Mr Bert Patrick.”
Bert was up for the challenge with Parliament and the BBC.
The BBC, who was not allowed to show advertising on programs at the time, threatened to cancel the FA Cup Final, where Admiral was the sponsor of both team, in 1976 if Patrick did not have the Admiral logo removed from the ‘front of the team’s tracksuits’ which Patrick causally replied he was happy if the game had to be cancelled. Not his problem. The game went ahead as planned and Patrick positioned himself as mediator as he scrambled to get the logo removed from the front of the tracksuits only to put it on the back instead where cameras at the time would get a great shot as the player’s walked onto the field.
The marketing game had begun in earnest.
Umbro quickly followed Admiral into the game followed by other smaller brands as well as today’s big boys, adidas, Nike, Puma, etc. And some would say that it has spun out of control.
Admiral’s £15,000 a year deal to outfit the England national team in 1974 pales in comparison to the £25 million a year deal Nike signed to outfit the Three Lions through July 2018. The jersey that Admiral sold in 1974 was £5 whereas the current Nike jersey has a list price of £90.
Fuel was thrown on the burning fire that was the growth of the jersey business with the addition of sponsors’ logos on the front of jersey. Uruguay’s Peñarol is credited with starting the jersey sponsorship trend in the 1950’s but the explosion of jersey sponsors coincided with the apparel sponsorships of the 1970’s.
German Bundesliga squad Eintracht Braunschweig was the first to adopt a sponsor logo in March of 1973. They placed the Jagermeister stag on the center of the jersey. They were not going to let Bundesliga brass and their attempts to ban sponsors logos stop them and so voted to change the club crest to the Jagermeister logo. Take that Bundesliga. The league finally gave-in allowing sponsor logos by the end of 1973.
England tried their best to ban such sponsorships with the first battle against English Southern League side Kettering Town but failed and by 1977 English clubs were allowed to have sponsor logos. The ban on sponsors’ logos on jerseys for televised matches was not lifted until 1983.
The out-of-the-box sponsorship/marketing idea of Patrick and the addition of sponsors has evolved into an all-out battle between brands to sign marquee clubs which ultimately drive up the cost which is passed on to the fans. Maybe the late Lord Islwyn was on to something when he first leveled complaints to Parliament about the new deal.
Premier League clubs are the biggest culprit in this escalating feud between the clubs/brands and the fans on how often to release a new jersey. The 2010/11 Premier League campaign saw all 20-teams release a new home kit for the first time since the Premier League was formed in 1993.
The problem was foreseen in 1997 when the Football Task Force, a government initiative, recommended that clubs release a new home jersey at most 1x every 2 seasons. The idea was adopted by the Premier League Charter in 2000. But there was no way to enforce this policy and clubs continued to release jerseys if they thought they could drive revenues.
The failed attempts at curbing the excess of jersey production has allowed the selling of official jerseys to grow into a billion $ industry.
Clubs now regularly have a home, away, and third (or sometimes called European) jersey and the brands are not hesitant to update the jersey(s) each year.
Tottenham Hotspur took it an extreme in 2013/14 when they had Hewlett Packard as the jersey sponsor for their jersey worn in Premier League matches and AIA the jersey sponsor when they were playing in cup matches, FA Cup, Capital One League Cup, and Europe, UEFA Europa League. They had a similar dual arrangement in 2011.
The focus customer has changed over the years as much as the approach of the teams and brands. The focus is now on adults who no longer have any hesitation to wear an official jersey to a match or out to the pub or other social settings. The soccer jersey has become a type of leisure wear and fashion statement at the same time.
Initially the brands tried to give clubs a new look or style as 40% of teams tried new colors on detailing and more intricate designs. It was not too hard as most jerseys at the time were relatively basic. Ironically, over the years all this innovation has not translated into teams flashy or innovative designs according to a recent study, according to a recent study by Dr. Chris Stride, a statistician from the University’s Institute of Work Psychology.
“Though most clubs now change their home shirt design every season, changes usually consist of just minor details, small flashes, collar styles or trim,” Dr Stride told phys.org. “The innovation in football shirts has shifted from design to marketing tactics.”
Rise of billion pound replica kit industry has changed the design of football shirts, study finds
Meet the man who created the replica football shirt market
Bert Patrick – Kit Man
Football kits: Premier League teams turn style into a cash cow
A Brief History of Jersey Sponsorship
Tottenham, AIA And Tiered Shirt Sponsorship
Have Your Say…If you could go back to 1974 would you congratulate or curse Bert Patrick? Leave your comments below.
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