There’s No I in Team!

The kit worn by your favourite team, or your sporting heroes and heroines is one of the primary marketing tools available to brands, and leads to valuable merchandise revenues and product image development. Within sports equipment and apparel supply, it is teamwear that creates arguably the most visible types of brand-exposure

Sportswear companies spend millions on securing the highest-profile contracts to display their names to the greatest possible audience. Football is the most highly participated (and watched) team sport in the UK with just shy of one-fifth of UK adults claiming to actively play, and this explains why the leading sports brands ensure that they supply kit to a large proportion of our top football teams. While the participation statistics for football surpasses those for cricket (5.4%) and rugby union (3.6%), a similar pattern appears in these other sports of big brands in high-profile sponsorships.

In the Barclays Premier League, teamwear is dominated by three particular sportswear brands- adidas, Nike and Puma. Of the 20 teams within the league, nine have adidas as their kit sponsor, and Nike is the second most prevalent brand with four teams. It is no surprise then that the top four teams of the 2012-2013 season – and arguably the most followed internationally – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City- are all covered by these two principal sports brand powerhouses alone.

However, look a little further afield and you begin to see some less familiar names. At Liverpool, the sponsor is American brand ‘Warrior’ whose heritage is in Ice Hockey and Lacrosse; at Crystal Palace the supplier is Avec, whose only other professional sport sponsorship in the UK is of Doncaster Rovers; or at Aston Villa, whose kit is provided by Italian sportswear brand Macron as they attempt to build their profile outside of their home market.

SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. was interested to discover that although these sporting giants dominate the kit within the Premier League football, the same couldn’t be said with regards to England’s top-flight rugby union and cricket competitions.

In rugby’s Aviva Premiership competition, only one club, Saracens, can boast a universally leading multi-sport kit sponsor brand in Nike. The most popular teamwear sponsors are in fact Samurai Sports, and Kooga whose kits are paraded by two teams each. Surprisingly the ‘world’s original rugby brand’ Canterbury, the official kit sponsor of the England rugby team, only backs one top flight domestic team, Leicester Tigers.

Although adidas is the chosen teamwear and kit sponsor of the England cricket team, no other team within cricket’s County Championship Division One is kitted out by adidas. The division is in fact dominated by Surridge Sports which is the kit supplier to three of the teams. Of the nine teams within the league, there are six different kit sponsors.

This brief teamwear census of leading competitions shows us that while the biggest brands compete for the most visible sponsorships, lower down the ladder teamwear supply is accessible to a wide range of large and small brands, all able to get a share of the spoils and provide teamwear to top teams within England’s most popular team sports.

Following an investigation by SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. into the active sport participant and their lifestyle, we know that the brands with the top sponsorship deals are often the same ones that have the highest level of awareness, and the widest range of consideration, among participants buying equipment in those sports. 98% of football participants are aware of Nike and adidas, and a respectable 90% are aware of Puma and Reebok. To put this into perspective, Warrior, the teamwear provider to Liverpool FC, was recognised by just 12% of adult football participants. 

When studying an individual participant’s purchasing of football equipment and kit, 85% said that they would consider buying adidas branded goods making it the most-considered football brand ahead of second-placed Nike (76%) and third-placed Reebok (53%). Breaking these considerations down into separate categories, adidas dominates clothing (73%) and footwear (69%), but we also see new or niche brands enter the fray such as Under Amour which, following its teamwear sponsorship of Tottenham Hotspur, they are considered by 13% of participants for their football clothing. Likewise, Britain’s ‘vintage footballing brand’ Umbro is still widely considered for both their clothing (35%) and footwear (28%), although the influence of the loss of the England teamwear sponsorship deal is yet to be seen.

Another British brand, Mitre, is the third most considered brand of football (behind adidas and Nike) and 32% of participants confirmed that they would consider buying a Mitre football. Just over one quarter of active participants had purchased football clothing within the last month, and 84% had bought clothing for the sport in the last year. In footwear, 80% had bought new football boots within the last 12 months, and half of those had purchased within the last three months. Shin pads were the piece of footballing attire that was purchased most infrequently, with 37% having acquired theirs more than one year earlier.

Given that football necessitates are more limited with regards to specialist equipment and kit – and as a result the purchaser does not believe they need such specialist advice – it is no surprise that the sports multiple store is the most popular point-of-purchase for active participants, whether for purchasing clothing, shin pads, footwear or balls. This was closely followed by the online specialist sports retailer such as Pro Direct, evidently a growing channel for all sporting goods and needs, regardless of the sport.

When trying to evaluate whether team-kit sponsorship can be correlated to international performance, then of the three team sports cited, the England men’s football team is the poorest ranked at 13th in FIFA’s rankings, in contrast to England (men’s) rugby – 4th, and England (men’s) cricket at 3rd in their respective rankings, clearly highlighting the greater impact of participation numbers against national triumphs for the major sports brands. Brands know that if consumers are participating in football, then they instantly acquire those participants’ attention and loyalty. By being an official teamwear sponsor, the brands have an opportunity to build a connection with a team that appeals to, and engages with, their target audience and can thus shape their future purchasing considerations.

However, there is also a different angle on teamwear – which is the clothing provided to the amateur game across all of these sports in the UK. The providers and teams are the starting point for the future international icons, and unfortunately may not get all the accolades for their involvement in the development and kitting-out of sporting superstars. So the likes of ProStar, GForce, Team Colours and others- take a bow.