The Premier League: A Fast Spring to Fashion

The Premier League
The Premier League is the top level of the English soccer league system and the world’s largest soccer league by revenue. Hosting world-class clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal, the 2018-2019 Premier League season was watched by 3.2 billion people in 188 countries, making it the most-watched sports league globally. The Premier League has cultivated a loyal fan base both at home and abroad; an online survey revealed approximately 30 per cent of global internet users watching the Premier League on television, of whom 80 per cent watch at least monthly.

Rising Jersey Prices
The Premier League signs long-term kit deals with Adidas, Nike, and Umbra to supply equipment such as jerseys, shorts, and cleats. As viewership of the Premier League grows, teams are demanding ever-higher payments, with Manchester United holding the current record at £75 million per year in a ten-year deal with Adidas. With Premier League deals being more expensive than ever, it is understandable that sportswear companies continuously raise prices to maintain margins.

As far back as 2000, British fans’ concerns with rising jersey prices were acknowledged by the Football Task Force, a government initiative established in 1997. They recommended that Premier League clubs restrict the introduction of a new home jersey to once every two seasons, a proposal which was later implemented in the 2000 Premier League Charter. However, since no legal repercussions accompanied the proposal, the recommendation has been ignored entirely. Clubs have supported other price-reduction measures such as caps on away ticket prices, which benefit clubs by filling stadiums and creating a competitive atmosphere during matches. However, a cap on jersey prices would reduce the value of kit deals immensely, making it extremely unlikely for any club to agree to such a proposal.

The high price of jerseys has also priced out lower-income individuals in developing countries. Markets where support for the top Premier League clubs and demand for secondary products exist include Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Thailand, and India—countries with relatively low GDP per capita and average income. The average Premier League jersey price is approximately £100. While this may be slightly expensive for fans in the developed world, this price level makes official sporting apparel inaccessible to fans in the developing world. For example, a single jersey would constitute 6 per cent of the annual earnings of the average Indonesian, equivalent to a C$3,156 expense for the average Canadian. The large fanbase in these geographies of over two billion people represent a significant untapped market for the Premier League.

Fast Fashion: A New Opportunity
To capitalize on this opportunity, the Premier League should partner with fast fashion retailers to make affordable non-jersey sports apparel such as shirts, hats, and accessories. This will create a low-cost alternative for currently priced-out fans to represent their teams. Additionally, the ability of the fast-fashion industry to turn out new products extremely quickly has helped brands like H&M and Uniqlo capitalize on social trends and mainstream fads, making them more accessible to a broader consumer base. This model can be applied to the Premier League, allowing teams to introduce affordable merchandise options to fans worldwide.

A Unique-lo Opportunity
Founded in 1949, Uniqlo Co. (Uniqlo) is a Japanese-based fast fashion retailer, primarily targeting young adults between the ages of 16 to 34. It has established itself as the third-largest player in the fast-fashion market. Uniqlo has grown their sales at a compounded annual growth rate of 8.6 per cent since 2016, and has a strong online presence, as well as 2,200 physical locations across 22 predominantly Asia-Pacific countries. Given Uniqlo’s ubiquity and brand recognition, they are well suited to partner with Premier League to implement the fast-fashion team merchandising project for Premier League fans in Asia-Pacific countries.

Compared to the traditional apparel industry, fast fashion relies on shorter cycle times to drive volume and meet rapidly changing trends. Since their products are replenished far more often than other sectors of the apparel industry, flexible and efficient supply chains are necessary. Uniqlo’s production facilities, located primarily in nearby China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, allow it to achieve short throughput times due to proximity. This geographic advantage further offers manufacturing flexibility, enabling Uniqlo to manage inventory and distribution closely to follow customer demand.

Such advantages are crucial to athletic clubs, who often capitalize on recent sports results and media coverage to boost sales. For instance, New Balance produced Kawhi Leonard “Board Man Gets Paid” and “Fun Guy” T-shirts during the Toronto Raptors NBA championships, with the shirts selling out within one day. Leonard transferred to Los Angeles mere weeks later, demonstrating the time constraint on athletic themed apparel.

Furthermore, Uniqlo offers a pre-established sportswear assembly line, significantly reducing upfront supply chain costs otherwise associated with developing a new product. Since fast fashion is defined by a consistent stream of new products, this existing infrastructure would increase contribution to both parties and make the partnership more attractive.

Uniqlo’s collaborations with designers attract publicity to storefronts while simultaneously allowing the brand to attract new consumer segments. The Premier League’s target markets in Southeast Asia and Greater China are also the countries at the core of Uniqlo’s strong performance, experiencing 20-per-cent and 21-per-cent earnings growth in fiscal year 2019, respectively. A long-term Premier League collaboration would add a high-quality brand to Uniqlo’s portfolio and strengthen its positioning in its fastest-growing markets.

In 2018, Uniqlo entered a collaborative effort with world-famous tennis player Roger Federer. The deal will carry through until 2028 and cost the Japanese brand $300 million, indicating significant interest on Uniqlo’s behalf to engage in sportswear collaborations. Federer’s inaugural release featured a full line of sportswear, including a variety of shirts, shorts, and hats. The collection of items was broken down into a series of geographically targeted launches, focused on London, New York, and Paris. Each launch included different style points, allowing fans from each locale to have their own unique apparel to support their favourite tennis player. A similar targeting strategy should be introduced with the Premier League partnership. Geographically relevant customizations and complete product lines are central to a successful athletic collaboration in this space, as it allows the customer to connect more personally with the collaborator.

Kicking It Off
Uniqlo should implement a phased strategy by releasing pieces for highly popular teams first among select secondary markets: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, and India. These countries have sizable fanbases for English clubs and would serve as good entry points for the new Uniqlo-Premier League partnership. Uniqlo should begin with Manchester United, Liverpool F.C., and Arsenal, as these clubs currently lead in jersey sales. Initial sales can give a sense of consumer preferences regarding styles and help forecast demand for future club releases or new product lines.

In each market that Uniqlo enters with this line, it should tailor the design of its offerings to the geography’s identity. For example, countries with hotter climates could primarily receive tank tops in Uniqlo’s sweat-wicking AIRism material while colder countries receive HeatTech long-sleeve shirts. More simply, the flag of the country in which the apparel is being launched could be embroidered on shirt sleeves. These identifiers would also act as a barrier to the global reselling of items meant for developing markets, reducing the cannibalization of current offerings.

Alongside online retail sales, Uniqlo will also be able to generate sales through official club merchandise stores, as well as its own network of over 800 stores across the aforementioned markets. Although there is considerable potential for online growth in these markets, Uniqlo’s online store comprised just five per cent of sales in 2019, suggesting that physical store sales are still a requirement for these markets. This will allow the Premier League to generate revenue from both brick-and-mortar and online sales.

It’s All About the Fans
This partnership should lead to increased fan engagement, boosting team awareness among global consumers and heightening their interest through popular team branding. As uproar continues in the world of retail jerseys, this project will create a mainstream environment for fans to represent their teams and participate in fashion trends. When associated clubs play in competitive playoff games and domestic league derbies, loyal fans and local residents can support their city in both modest and expressive ways. Fans overseas will also have access to affordable pieces that will strengthen their association with their favourite clubs and solidify their presence in the Premier League global fanbase. Uniqlo can create the opportunity for anybody in the Premier League universe to celebrate the beautiful game.