The FA are celebrating their 150 year anniversary in 2013. Celebrations of this milestone will want to be shared and celebrated with England fans across the world and what better way than the launch of the new national replica shirt. For every England football fan, the one shirt launch that whets the appetite and succeeds in driving a national media frenzy is the launch of the England football shirt. Manufactured by Umbro since 1954 (and Admiral between 1974 - 1984), the brand will be relinquishing this flagship product to Nike.
The launch of the new England shirt is an annual occurence, where the home shirt coincides with a non-tournament year and the away shirt on a tournament year (e.g. World Cup, European Championships). For the 150 year anniversary, it is up to Nike to take up the responsibility of ensuring a successful launch - But will the 150 years celebration in 2013 provide the platform to break from tradition and consider a more unique proposition rather than a price-led strategy? It does not seem so.
Time to rethink the launch of the England football shirt
The recent influx of retailers entering the sports retail market (particularly online) has seen the focus shift from a shirt that once encapsulated good design, cutting edge technology and passion being dwarfed by what the lowest RRP is to sell the shirt. A quick browse on Google trends displays a concerning dip in the level of interest for the England shirt focusing on some of the most popular search terms associated with the launch of the shirt e.g. "England shirt", "new england shirt", new england football kit"
The graph above displays the peaks in search traffic which correspond to the annual shirt launch (Feb/March each year). Since 2006 (world cup year) there has been a gradual decline in search trends for the cluster of keywords (apart from a climb in 2009). So why is this?
The concern is more to do with the trend in the low-pricing of the product and with it, a decline in value and aspiration, or even association with the product. With the influx of retailers promoting the shirt the battle surrounds it's price. Not long after the official launch of the shirt, retailers were already discounting the product and into a price war:
It has culminated in a race to the bottom, where the pricing policy being the retailers key USP, in other words: "how cheap can we go and offer the product to our customers" and with it, damaging the long term reputation and credibility of the national football shirt. The current recession has impacted the sales of official replica shirts with customers moving to purchase unofficial product due to a lower price point shopping at discount retailers. There is an increasing trend in customers preferring to shop for replica shirts through online discount retailers with no official accreditation. But there is another way...
Redefining and recreating the England Football Shirt Launch
Celebrating the 150 years of the FA is the perfect time for the Football Association to re-define and re-create the England shirt to appeal to its supporters. There has been a trend towards ethical and corporate social responsibility, positioning for retailers such as supporting charities through sales of products (Mintel, 2012). More brands are associating and aligning their values to more socially responsive and ethical drivers. Within the football replica market, the majority of competitors focus purely on pricing wars. By focusing on more social responsibility this provides a great opportunity to provide something back to the community and provide compelling story behind launch of the England shirt.
Examples of replica football shirt promotions
Aligning brands and product launches to a more socially responsive attitude is nothing new, and below are a few examples:
Subside Sports a company that prides itself on offering one of the largest collections of football shirts globally ran a promotion with the England shirt in 2009 where they ran a partnership with the Royal British Legion - for every England shirt sold through www.subsidesports.com a donation was made to the British Legion. Subside also printed a poppy on your England shirt and featured a British forces badge.
So there is another way - and perhaps Nike or even the FA could consider aligning together to provide a unique product launch where the England shirt launch provides something back to the nation? Sports manufacturer Puma did exactly this during the build up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa launched an Africa World Cup Unity Shirt -
In partnership with the United Nations, the shirt was worn by all African teams during the World Cup during a tournament game. to quote the press release -
"PUMA unveiled their key fundraising lever, the revolutionary new Africa Unity Kit –the world’s first ‘continental football kit’ designed to be worn by the 12 African football national teams that PUMA sponsors. These include the World Cup qualified teams Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Algeria who are headed to the Africa Cup of Nations’ with hosts Angola and the national teams of Egypt, Mozambique, Togo and Tunisia, as well as non-qualified federations of Senegal, Morocco and Namibia. Puma also sponsors some of the continent’s best players — Samuel Eto’o, Emmanuel Eboué and John Mensah. Profits from the sale of the shirts helped fund biodiversity programs in Africa.
So how about it FA and Nike - It's time to think differently - why not think a little more laterally and creatively when launching the next England football shirt? Why can't the England shirt launch associate a partnership with a charity? or to support national projects - not only is it giving something back, it's encapsulating the 150 years celebration with a socially responsive stance that England fans around the world could associate with.