Once upon a time, the humble soccer jersey served little purpose other than to tell the difference between two teams.
Occasionally superstition forced a change to the team jersey. For example, up until 1953, Brazil used to play in a white jersey. The mood of a country and the team jersey was forever changed when Seleção failed to win the 1950 World Cup. A new jersey was debuted 4-years later at the 1954 World Cup and the team has never looked back on their way to winning an unprecedented 5 World Cup titles.
Such a change was rare and certainly never for marketing purposes.
Only when Admiral signed a deal to supply the Leeds United jersey of 1973 did things start to change. The deal meant that Leeds could sell replica jerseys with the Admiral logo on, making them recognizable. A whole new market was born.
Jersey sponsorship wasn’t far behind, although it wasn’t initially something the big clubs caught on to. English side Kettering Town emblazoned ‘Kettering Tyres’ on their kit in 1976, only for the English FA to outlaw the innovation.
Not long after that, Derby County and Bolton Wanderers applied to have advertising on their shirts and in 1977 the FA granted a license. That’s helped pave the way for lots of record-breaking jersey deals over the years, with suppliers and advertisers.
Real Madrid are currently eyeing a $125 million per season deal with Adidas to supply their kit, a long way from the sort of money Kettering Town got.
Not only has the financial aspect of the football shirt developed, but so has the technology used in the shirt itself. Over the years the method by which they’re produced has changed.
An article by sports coach Jimson Lee reveals that it wasn’t just soccer jerseys that saw a technological change. Nike were one of the first companies to introduce a shirt that essentially kept sweat away from sportsman and women, used by golfers and soccer players alike.
The drive to find that sporting edge prompted them to develop lighter jerseys to help with speed and endurance. The dri-fit technology even helps keep sweat away from the players during the game.
Italy’s World Cup 2014 kit took the evolution of soccer jerseys a step further as it “featured a special tape that micro-massaged player’s muscles as they wore it”. The aim was to help a player’s physical recovery by massaging them whilst the jersey was being worn. Labelled a ‘compression kit’, Uruguay also wore a similar jersey at the 2014 tournament.
The technology is only going to progress even further. With sports science becoming an increasingly popular aspect of soccer, jerseys are being developed with heart rate monitors and GPS tracking signals in them. This will help coaches understand their players’ performance and requirements down to the finest detail.
From simply being a way to differentiate between two teams, soccer jerseys have become a huge industry. They’re used as a method to develop revenue and income, with big clubs such as England’s Manchester United making huge sums of money from selling shirts with players’ names on.
They’re also playing a key role in aiding performance and understanding the athletes better, making the soccer jersey an integral part of the modern game in more ways than one.