The ins and outs of an A-League kit deal...
Over the years, there have been some well-known football brands that have made kits for Perth Glory. In the early years, fans will remember the classic Umbro kits featuring the famous orange 'sunburst' design on a purple background. There was also four years of Kappa classics - combined with some smart Kappa trackies and running jacket, they were sure to boost your inner 'Wogability' by 110%. So when the FFA's overarching contract with Reebok ran out this year, many observers were keen to find out just who Glory would be using to produce their new 2011-2012 kits. Would we see three stripes adorning our players' shoulders? Would we find ourselves with retro Rangers-style collared Umbro classics? Would the familiar 'swoosh' make its Perth Glory debut?
In a word, no.
It's fair to say that the announcement that Australian company Blades would be the team apparel sponsor up until the 2013/2014 season took most Glory fans by surprise. The Blades website probably would have received more traffic on the day of that announcement than they had in the previous few months, as Google's servers were bombarded with search requests Western Australia-wide seeking answers to the question - "…Who?".
I contacted Blades to find out a little bit more about the company, and Sales & Marketing Manager Britt Homewood was more than happy to oblige:
"Blades is more traditionally known for their involvement in NRL and AFL and have traditionally had a stronger presence on the eastern side of Australia. Our involvement with Perth Glory is based on a number of factors. Firstly, we produce high tech apparel across a number of codes, from grass roots through to professional leagues. With the opening up of the A League contracts this year it enabled Blades to enter into this arena, and we have been able to apply our prior professional club experience and knowledge of fabrics to achieve excellent results for Perth Glory.
Being primarily known for our performance football boots [across codes] it is a natural progression for the company to pursue a stronger involvement in football, and joining with Perth Glory in this venture also improves Blades’ brand recognition nationally. Being a wholly Australian-owned company and conducting all of our research and design in Australia also enables us to be at the forefront of design in both apparel and footwear for the unique conditions we experience. We are confident that the Perth Glory players and supporters will be impressed by the quality of both the on field and off field apparel they now have access to."
Now personally I don't much care if the shirt I wear was produced by a famous American fashion house or my Nan's best friend - so long as it's comfortable, looks good, and is of decent quality. It's never ceased to amaze me how some people can be sucked in by branding to an extent where running around in a $70 Adidas tee that has faded and frayed after three washes makes them far superior human beings to me and my $20 generic no name piece of kit.
So while I don't particularly mind that Blades was chosen as our supplier, it still doesn't really answer the question as to why Glory ended up going with such a relatively unknown brand (in the world of football and in WA at least). To find that out, I contacted club CEO Paul Kelly, who explained the process.
"We went to tender and sent proposals to all kit manufacturers. We had three offers of substance and then proceeded to negotiate with them, one of these being a major football brand. The major brand withdrew a short while into the discussions and so we continued on with the remaining two… Ultimately Blades offered us the best deal on supply for three squads, backroom staff, office workers, volunteers, etc.
There were many challenges with the [FFA] Reebok deal, none more so than the centralised control and available stock. We wanted to control our own destiny and build up a relationship with a sports manufacturer over time to introduce and expand a range of products both online and the possibility of in our own store. An Australian company interested us as we wanted something direct and to be able to deal with locally."
Now getting a good deal for the club's supply is one thing, but putting aside my own opinions on branding I couldn't shake the nagging thought that a bigger name might have brought the club more recognition among the great unwashed - if not more money from the signing fee. I put this to the CEO, but he gave a pretty blunt rebuttal when it came to the commercial reality of A-League kit sponsorship:
"The club unfortunately wasn't in a good space last year, and it was hard to attract much interest in doing business with us on the basis that there were nine other A-League teams out there in the marketplace [also looking for a deal]. We went to every known provider and to be honest, there wasn't a lot of interest.
Furthermore, the majority of the A-League clubs have deals that are minimal cash, mostly contra - i.e. the company simply kits the club out as needed and provides access to merchandise at a negotiated rate, which the club can then mark up and onsell as a revenue stream. That said many manufacturers also have minimum merchandise orders which restricts you in a lot of cases, as you won't sell that volume and you have to purchase it upfront.
We run our merchandise at the lowest possible cost to our consumers. Historically our [merch] turnover is not that great so our Blades contract is very simplistic. Suffice to say, we don't make a lot of money on a shirt - between $10 or $15. A royalty is also applicable to the FFA. With Blades we do also have the ability to look at alternative designs for the 2012/2013 season. I've seen a purple version (mocked up) of the away jersey which I really like!
You should note that we've nearly sold all our initial home jersey allocation, and have a further order due. There's also been a steady demand of the away kit."
Clearly a tarnishing of the Glory brand over past years, combined with a frenzy of activity across the A-League from other clubs seeking deals, ensured that signing a kit deal wasn't as straightforward as some might think. What's more, Kelly was keen to point out that it wasn't just Glory who experienced problems working out a kit deal, highlighting that some teams are still simply taking pre-orders for the merchandising of their new kits and that one club won't have them until Christmas time. Given the ongoing speculation around them, I can only assume this team is Newcastle Jets.
A final question I thought worth asking was to do with the design of the kits themselves. Perth took the unusual step of having a predominantly white front to both their kits this season, and it did make me wonder just how the design of the shirts came together for the club.
"The [kit] provider acts on our direction in creating a design, in relation to the home kit this was as a direct result of consultation with select groups including fans, players, sponsors, corporates, etc by way of focus groups. Stripes and more white was unanimously the preferred style - management, that is the current management, didn't take part in these discussions.
You have a very limited timeframe in preparing for a new kit. The Reebok deal ended in July 11 and it was a February 1, 2011 deadline for new providers. Ultimately [club owner] Tony Sage signs off on the kit on the basis of the information provided to him. As regards the away strip, this was something management took a more hands on approach with and Tony's fashion magazine Kurv was consulted as part of the design. Any new kits for season 12/13 we'll be looking to have locked away in December in terms of how they'll look."
Wow - to think that my 2011/2012 shirt is Kurv Magazine approved just sends shivers of joy down my spine. That said, I do think that it's a pretty rockin' kit and I certainly wouldn't have parted with $99 if I didn't think it was worth it, even if I was handing the money to a club legend in the form of Bobby D. The latter has remarked that it's the best away kit the club has had in many years, and despite his obvious charm as a salesman you'd have to admit he's spot on there. So maybe there's something to be said for A-League owners taking a stake in the fashion world (As well as Kurv, Sage also owns a good chunk of the Perth Fashion Festival) in addition to their football holdings?
My one gripe with the away shirt is that the commemorative 15-year badge is part of the actual shirt design itself - not a transfer that you can feel as you run your fingers over the shirt, and not a sewn-on badge like the A-League logo (look, does it really matter if it is on the sleeve or not? Jesus. You'd think that it was the biggest problem with the league! I just don't get the hullabaloo.) I am however informed that this could be down to a simple matter of needing to get the shirts out on time - thus avoiding a Newcastle-like situation.
It should also be highlighted that the club has teamed up with advertiser Presynkt Productions to produce a campaign entitled "No Guts, No Glory" which can be viewed here. As part of the campaign, you can get yourself one of the purple "No Guts, No Glory" shirts for $10 from Bobby's or the stadium itself on match day, and pull it up over your head to reveal a likeness of Travis Dodd, Scotty Neville, or Shane Smeltz when celebrating a goal. Whilst we may ask just why the odd accent was needed, there's no denying this is a clever little idea and one that has been pretty well executed. For a mere tenner, it's a great way for clubs to get extra merchandise out there without having to sign supplier deals or pay FFA fees.
Finally, for those who might be wondering just how their team's kit pricing lines up against other clubs, here's a quick comparison:
Suffice to say, Perth fans who felt gouged by home end membership pricing can at least be satisfied that the Blades deal means fairly well-priced shirts compared to the competition - especially for the young-uns. It's also interesting to note that another Australian company, Fi-ta, is the cheapest of the lot and brings good value to Gold Coast buyers. I don't like the kit very much personally, but you can't argue with the pricing.
So there you have it - the how, where, and why of one A-League club's kit deal. Now just one question remains - and that is just how long will it be until the first beer or tomato sauce stain appears on my pristine white jersey?