Fans of football teams in the English Championship might well have noticed something a bit odd if they've already played Sheffield Wednesday at home this season or visited the Owl's Hillsborough stadium for an away match. Because whilst the sleeping giants of South Yorkshire might well be one of the best supported clubs in the division, with a passionate loyal following home and away, one thing that may have struck opposition fans is why none of the Wednesday supporters are wearing this season's new kit.
Well, the reason is pretty simple - up until the end of October no replica shirts had actually been available for them to buy ! Seriously ? A club of this size and stature, with thousands of potential shirt sales just waiting to go through the club's till ? Well yes, it's true, but the reason is a bit different to normal delays in waiting for a new strip.
At the end of last season the club decided to dispense with the services of their previous kit manufacturer, Sondico, and decided to do something a bit radical. There had already been rumours as early as April that the club were going to change their football kit and even possibly look at getting rid of the club's iconic blue and white stripes. So rather than immediately trying to hook up with another of the industry's traditional shirt manufacturers, such as a big name like Adidas, Puma or Umbro, or even to try and strike a deal with one of the upcoming labels who are trying to get a bigger foothold in the English game, such as Macron or Under Armour, Wednesday decided to go completely against the grain of what every other club has always done and bring the shirt design and manufacturing in-house, effectively creating their own brand and label and finding a factory to source it.
The reason ? Simple. Money. The club's hierarchy felt that by going direct to an actual clothing manufacturer, they could make more money in the long term than if they were to sign up to a traditional deal. It would allow them to set their own prices and make more money from the sale of each shirt as they would effectively be making profit on everything above the base value that the factory would be charging them. It all sounds like quite a good idea, especially with Financial Fairplay rules limiting the spending power of the club's wealthy Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri, and it seemed like quite a clever business ploy to generate an increased revenue stream. However, it didn't turn out to be such an easy ride, eventually highlighted by the ultimate failure of still having empty hangers in the club's superstore in the middle of Autumn. It appears that problems striking a deal with a suitable partner through the summer, and with the pressure to get large quantities of stock created for the large fan-base all lead to the lateness of the shirts appearing in the club's superstore.
So whilst the process will have been painful for the commercial side of the club and the delays to the fan-base frustrating to say the least, you have to admire them for trying something different and thinking outside of the box. The positive thing for the club is that they've now been through the process, and so next season and the season's after that, they will be better placed to iron out such issues early on and eventually reap the rewards of making more profits from each kit sale. If they could do this alongside a lucrative sponsorship deal then it would increase their spending capacity for the players required to help them reach the promised land of the Premiership. Whilst several Championship clubs such as Wednesday, Leeds and Aston Villa admittedly have great support, and will always attract interest, the big money on offer is in the highest league. So, some traditionally smaller clubs, such as Bournemouth and Watford are now getting better sponsorship deals than these grand old clubs in the Championship, with huge support and huge potential, because their shirts are being shown at a huge global level on TV.
Sponsors seem willing to throw money at any team who make it to the Premiership, and there is a range of industries who are willing to pay. The really big English clubs have attracted the likes of Chevrolet and Yokohama from the motor industry, Etihad Airways and Fly Emirates from the airline industry, and Standard Chartered and AIA from the financial sector. But after these clubs there is an abundance of mainly betting and gambling companies who are willing to put their names on Premiership football club shirts, and pay good money for it. Given the mass-appeal of English football around the world in recent years, and the huge rise in popularity of online betting and gambling, it's hardly a surprise. And it's not just the traditional British betting companies who are looking to promote themselves, it's an almost endless supply of betting companies from the Far East who are also looking to have their names adorned on English club shirts. The surge in popularity of the betting industry in the UK and Europe has been incredible, not just on football markets, but horse-racing and other sports, casinos, gaming and slots. In the UK there is plenty of choice for bookmakers and online casinos, whilst in Europe there is plenty of choice too, with the likes of Euro Palace casino games and other popular casino sites, and the competition to market all of these rival companies is huge. There's even been a rise in mainstream TV adverts for mobile betting and popular online casino games such as roulette and blackjack, with big name actors and celebrities even endorsing certain companies. Premiership football is basically is just another great marketing stream for the gambling companies and online casinos. Companies will basically advertise and sponsor in any industry that has such a wide appeal. So, if a club can get into the Premiership, they can expect to have big-money deals thrown at them, not just from the TV rights, but also from sponsorship deals and commercial offers that you simply aren't going to get in the second tier.¨
This is the dream for all of the clubs below the Premiership, and it's why teams like Sheffield Wednesday are having to look at different ways to make extra money to help them achieve their dream of a return to the Premiership, even it means ditching traditional sponsorship deals, or traditional kit manufacturers. We say good luck to them. Let's hope it works, but let's also hope that they remember the fans in all of this, the very people who loyally buy those shirts every year. Wouldn't it be great to see an English football club pass on some of the savings that they make to the fans, by having some reasonably priced merchandise that doesn't cost the earth every season ?
Time will tell if a club such as Sheffield Wednesday can create their own kits, and if so, whether it leads to other clubs following suit.