Football & the Online Retail Challenge

Football clubs across the country are being urged to rethink their retail models to tackle the unique challenges they currently face.

With games set to be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future, club revenues are being severely impacted in a variety of ways.

One issue comes in the form of replica shirt sales, with a study by online shopping website Love the Sales reporting that UK online searches for kits dropped by dramatically during August.

Stuart McClure, co-founder of the company, said: “It’s no secret that big money signings, pre-season tours and fans at games have a huge impact on August shirt sales for English clubs.

“Without the last two factors in 2020, demand across the board for English football kits has dropped by 63 percent year-on-year.

“Just like clothing retailers, football teams must adapt to the new normal, and reach out to supporters through online channels, to keep fans invested in their clubs and merchandise.”

The figures are extremely worrying at a time when clubs desperately need to keep revenue flowing their businesses.

With footfall through their stores severely impacted, clubs have been forced to remodel their retail operations significantly.

While most clubs have historically sold merchandise online, many have failed to offer a first-class customer experience.

The revised landscape has pushed clubs into looking at their overall online offering to maximise their revenue streams.

Investment in eCommerce technology and improved photography have been amongst the factors that clubs have sought to leverage to their advantage.

Those efforts have resulted in a significant rise in online sales for numerous clubs, with some reporting that they had more than tripled their income via this route.

Enhanced marketing activity has also helped clubs ramp up their online income, thus helping to fill some of the void created by the loss of physical sales.

Some clubs have introduced new online features such as auctions for unique items such as signed merchandise which have also proved to be successful.

Liverpool are a great example of a club who have benefited from ensuring that they offer fans a super-slick online retail experience.

The launch of the new home jersey during August saw record traffic on the club’s online store, forcing them to issue holding messages on social media asking fans to be patient.

Senior vice president of merchandising at Liverpool, Mike Cox, said: “We have seen record-breaking sales of kit again as we start the new season – even higher than the sales we saw during the start of our previously most successful season last year.

“This exceeds our own high expectations and shows how our support continues to grow, particularly as our success on the pitch continues.

“Of course, this hugely significant demand has caused some operational complexities for us as we continue to operate under unique conditions, and it has also meant that we have sold out of some key home kit sizes.

“However, we’re working very closely with Nike on this and expect to receive a re-stock in October. We thank our supporters for their support and patience.”

The switch from New Balance to Nike was obviously an important one for Liverpool and certainly played its part in the popularity of the new shirt.

Brand exposure is significant from a retail perspective, and the crossover into other sectors can prove to be hugely lucrative.

The moment that basketball star LeBron James was pictured on social media in the new Liverpool jersey was a dream from a marketing perspective, placing the product in front of millions of potential new customers.

This type of strategy further highlights how it important is it for clubs to invest sufficient resources into their online retail operations as they strive to navigate through a challenging period.