For those who complain about government’s role in people’s personal lives, the British government has come out against—of all things—the price of football shirts. On Tuesday, April 1 British newspapers blasted US Sportswear company Nike for pricing England’s World Cup Kits at 90 GBP—certainly an exorbitant amount, it is almost 150 US Dollars. Nike countered that 90 GBP was for the exact replica of what the players will wear on the field; a simpler version costs 60 GBP—still almost 100 US Dollars. Sports minister Helen Grant agreed that the pricing “needs a rethink,” while Prime Minister David Cameron supported his Sports minister, saying that Nike is “taking advantage of parents”.
His spokesman, meanwhile, made it clear that “it is ‘clearly not’ the role of the Government to set the price of football shirts, but that £90 is a ‘lot’ of money.” At least they had that much sense to acknowledge what the government’s role should and should not be. In my opinion the opposition Labour Party’s sports spokesman Clive Efford may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “The anger generated by the 90 pound price tag for an adult England shirt is symptomatic of a wider issue of the games traditional fan base being edged out by the growing costs of being a supporter.”
This spat between Nike and the British government will clearly not cause a rift between the United States and Britain but it is still emblematic of the role of corporations in the changing face of world soccer. I remember when, as a kid, I started out on my shirt collecting odyssey. I had no income, so I was reliant on my parents, and even the 45 GBP for shirts in the early 2000s and late 1990s seemed exorbitant. Now the price of shirts has doubled, but with no corresponding doubling of worldwide incomes. Even in my travels during the last few years I have never paid the equivalent of 90 GBP for a new shirt—most shirts I have acquired hover in the 60 to 80 dollar range.
This change in price stems from the English Football Association’s new deal with Nike, which replaced Umbro as England’s kit manufacturer last year. Umbro was—until Nike acquired them in 2008 for 285 million GBP—a wholly English brand. Founded in Wilmslow, Cheshire in 1924 Umbro started as the official sponsor of the Football Association. Their iconic double diamond graced classic England kits (the World Cup winning side in 1966 wore them, which coincided with the start of Umbro’s golden age—Liverpool won four of their five European cups in Umbro shirts—1977, 1978, 1981 and 1984). More recently Umbro’s classic Manchester United kit—which they won the 1999 treble in—comes to mind. Indeed in terms of kit manufacturing as well we can see Clive Efford’s words being echoed—traditional fans and traditional brands are both being pushed out as the game becomes more and more globalized and thereby more commercial. The tradition of an English brand sponsoring English football was ended with Nike’s acquisition of Umbro.
Although not about kit manufacturers a story on Spanish football from ESPN.com is worth presenting here, as it is related. Sid Lowe wrote a moving piece on the struggles of Spanish second division side Eibar in the face of industrial football. Eibar, hailing from a small town of 27,000 in Northern Spain’s Basque country, are facing an uphill battle for promotion to Spain’s top-flight, La Liga. Strangely, that struggle has nothing to do with results on the field. Against all odds Eibar sit top of the second division poised for promotion despite playing in the division’s smallest ground to the smallest crowds—they average 3,000 a game—with the smallest budget (3.5 million Euros—how many England shirts will that buy? Answer: 32,294. Enough to clothe all of Eibar and then some). What is even more shocking—at least for a Spanish side—is that Eibar stay within that budget, even while pursuing promotion—they are 422,253 Euros in the black. And where is the rub? It is that Eibar must raise 1.7 million Euros by the end of the season in order to achieve promotion, regardless of results on the pitch.
This stems from a law—Real Decreto 1251/1999—which decrees that “every team has to have a capital equal to 25 percent of the average expenses of all the teams in the Second Division, not including the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two clubs with the smallest outgoings in the division”. Thus, the team needs to find the 1,724,272 Euros that will raise their value to the 2,146,525 Euro threshold that will allow them to continue playing in the professional divisions. Sid Lowe notes gravely that this “figure [is] set not by their budget or their ability to guarantee survival, but by everyone else’s.”
I certainly hope that Eibar can survive against the odds since grassroots football is what we all grew up on. 1,724,272 Euros isn’t so much, is it? It is only 15,910 Nike England kits. For a bit of perspective, that number is just half the 30,326 population of Wilsmslow, Cheshire where Umbro were founded 100 years ago.
The Controversially Priced England Kits That Could Save Eibar (Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/09/england-2014-world-cup-home-and-away.html).