When England and Spain meet in the World Cup final on Sunday, millions of football fans will be glued to their televisions. Many will gamble on the outcome. But for companies like Nike and Adidas, there’s a whole other bet playing out: whether they made enough merchandise to satisfy the euphoric demand from fans of the winning team.
The companies decided months ago how many replica and authentic jerseys to manufacture for each of the women’s teams. Those decisions were based on a combination of historical shopping patterns for each country, conversations with retail partners and a fair bit of conjecture. Getting the picture wrong can have real consequences — both in terms of lost sales and angered fans.
“There is no formula for it — I wish there was,” Bjorn Gulden, chief executive officer of Adidas, said of the process for forecasting demand. “If there was someone who knew that, that person would be hired immediately.”
For this year’s Women’s World Cup, the stakes are particularly high. This is the first time the tournament has featured 32 teams and the prize money is triple what it was in 2019. Adidas, Nike and Puma have invested more than ever into marketing and outfitting some of the players. Globally, interest appears to be at an all-time high.
Now, for the wrinkle that nobody could have predicted: many of the tournament favorites, including every country that’s ever won the Women’s World Cup before, has already been eliminated.
Too many, too few
There are two ways to misjudge demand. If you produce too much of a country’s jerseys, it could take months to work through all that excess inventory (perhaps leading to steep markdowns in price.) That’s what Puma had to do twice in recent years after Italy’s men’s football team failed to even qualify for the World Cup.
The other mistake — the real sin in the eyes of fans — is when you don’t produce enough of a particular jersey. Puma experienced that too, when it failed to order enough Manchester City jerseys in time for a swell in demand after the Abu Dhabi majority-owned club won England’s so-called “treble” — the Premier League title, the FA Cup and Europe’s Champions League — over a few weeks this spring.
“Demand was significantly higher than what we have anticipated,” Puma CEO Arne Freundt acknowledged. “That was an opportunity for us to re-order and reproduce.”
It may have also cost Puma money. That’s because when a team wins a big title — or a high-profile player does something remarkable, like shocking the world by changing teams — it tends to create a massive spike in demand for jerseys that lasts for just a few days, according to Doug Mack, CEO of Fanatics Commerce.
If you can’t meet that demand right away, chances are you’ll lose potential business as disappointed fans give up and move on with their lives.
“That first 72 hours is a disproportionately interesting selling opportunity,” Mack said in an interview.
Seeing the future
There are ways to satisfy fans, nonetheless. Merchandise companies often flood the market with easily stockpiled items that only require a little final printing work or other touches — such as novelty championship hats, T-shirts and other collectibles. Uniforms, however, typically require more lead time to manufacture properly, which often forces brands to place new orders with factories that may not have much capacity at the time.
To hedge against such risks, companies such as Fanatics have experimented with new ways of predicting demand. A newcomer to the sports merchandise world, Fanatics runs, among other things, the e-commerce stores for all sorts of professional leagues and sports federations. It also licenses Nike’s Swoosh to produce the fan replica and authentic jerseys for, among other things, the National Football League.
This past spring, it leveraged its professional football contacts to create a model predicting the probability that superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers would get traded to the New York Jets, as rumored at the time.
As the odds got better, in Fanatics’ eyes, it ordered up a huge stockpile of blank Jets jerseys. That came in handy when the trade actually happened, since Rodgers became the most popular jersey, selling more than the next nine players combined, according to the company. “All we had to do after the trade is finish the jerseys with his name and number,” Mack said.
It’s not always so easy. Take the case of Lionel Messi announcing his plans in early June to sign with Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami. On paper, this should have been a slam dunk for Adidas, which has had an endorsement deal with Messi for more than a decade and which outfits every team in the MLS.
Yet there were a couple of challenges. Until late in the process, Messi was also rumored to be considering signing again with Barcelona, his old club, or even a team in Saudi Arabia. The other problem: Inter Miami’s uniforms are bright pink.
As a result, fans in mid-August are still required to “pre-order” Messi’s Miami jersey from Adidas, which is scrambling to ratchet up supplies.
“Miami is playing in a color that is not normally very commercial to have on stock, so we didn’t really have that much of the material,” Adidas boss Gulden explained. “I can assure you that both factories and aircrafts and whatever we can use has been used to fulfill that demand.”
Companies risk becoming punching bags when they’re caught off guard. England’s Mary Earps has taken Nike to task for not making fan versions of women’s goalkeeper jerseys (Adidas also doesn’t make these.) Meanwhile, Adidas has been criticized for not making versions of the women’s World Cup uniforms in men’s sizes, Gulden said.
Then there are the usual challenges with big tournaments. As ever, there have been some high-profile upsets, with Germany exiting in the first round (sorry, Adidas) and the US getting eliminated early in the knockout stage (sorry, Nike).
While that could leave these companies with more merchandise than fans want, it’s not necessarily bad for the sport. When the same teams win over and over, their fans don’t necessarily go crazy with enthusiasm, Mack says. When an underdog wins, though, it can create rare levels of excitement.
As it turned out, each of the two big sportswear makers ended up with a team in the final: Nike sponsors England, while Adidas sponsors Spain.
“First-time champions do incredibly well,” Mack says. “Those fan bases get activated.”
Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Manchester United national stadium plan backed
A vision for a new Manchester United ground that could double as a ‘Wembley of the North’ has been welcomed by council chiefs.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a co-owner of the club, has outlined his preference to replace Old Trafford with a ground that could be used as a national venue.
Trafford Council welcomed the proposal as part of its plans to regenerate the wider Trafford Wharf area.
But councillor Liz Patel said it would be up the club to fund a new stadium.
The club’s plans are a key element of Trafford Council’s Wharfside Development plans, which will go out to public consultation next week.
New stadium developments at Tottenham, Everton, and Manchester City have been highlighted by the council as good examples of how to regenerate an area and keep fans there for longer on match days.
Sir Jim told BBC sports editor Dan Roan that the 74,310-capacity Old Trafford had become “tired and in need of refurbishment”.
He said any plan to build a new stadium that could also be used as a national ground would require a “conversation” with the government about using taxpayer funds.
Ms Patel, who is leading the council’s redevelopment plans, said a ‘Wembley of the North’ proposal “would be wonderful”.
“That is great ambition from Jim Ratcliffe and these plans match that in terms of the setting and the future of the area,” she said.
A new stadium built on adjacent land could cost around £2bn.
Ms Patel said the council would look for investment for the Wharfside plans, and “saw a role” for the council in “leading, guiding and securing” the funding.
“How United get together the finances for their own stadium refurbishment would be separate,” she said.
At a meeting of the council’s executive on Monday night, Ms Patel earned cross-party support for the regeneration plans, which could take up to 20 years realise.
She said Trafford Council had worked with Manchester United’s planning team to design improvements in the area for fans as part of the masterplan.
“We want to create a much more family-friendly space where people want to stay longer and have processional routes so it’s a lot safer for fans arriving on foot from tram stops or walking out from the city centre – as sometimes happens in European matches.”
F1 Academy pens Tommy Hilfiger deal
The all-female F1 Academy series has agreed a partnership with global lifestyle brand Tommy Hilfiger.
- Tommy Hilfiger will sponsor the entry of Spanish driver Nerea Martí
- The brand will also design and provide all F1 Academy staff uniform
Tommy Hilfiger becomes the latest brand to support the upcoming season of F1 Academy, with Charlotte Tilbury and Puma already on board. There will be five designated partner liveries this season, in addition to each car supported by a Formula One team, which means there are two partnerships still to be announced.
This adds to Tommy Hilfiger’s existing partnership with the Mercedes Formula One team, first signed back in 2018, as well as its personal endorsement of Lewis Hamilton and, more recently, George Russell.
“Tommy Hilfiger is one of the most recognised global lifestyle brands, so it is a great honour to welcome them to F1 Academy as an official partner,” said Susie Wolff, managing director of F1 Academy.
“Tommy Hilfiger is fully invested in our mission to improve female representation in motorsport, and their global brand platform will appeal to those outside of the motorsport world and help us to reach new audiences.
“I would like to personally thank Tommy and his team for sharing our vision and supporting a talented young driver in Nerea Martí.”
The F1 Academy season gets underway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in support of Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from 7th to 9th March.
Nascar ‘in talks’ over Xfinity sponsorship extension
Xfinity has been title sponsor of Nascar’s second-tier series since 2015, with the ten-year deal worth roughly US$200 million.
However, with that contract concluding at the end of this season, there are no guarantees that Xfinity will continue as title sponsor.
When the contract was first agreed, it made sense for Comcast to promote its newly launched Xfinity brand through NBC Sports, also owned by Comcast, which had signed a ten-year broadcast partnership with Nascar.
This media rights deal comes to an end this year but, with the second-tier Xfinity Series being carved out to The CW Network for US$800 million, the synergy between the two Comcast-owned properties is lost.
“It’s a little too early for us to give a really good answer on [whether the Xfinity Series asset is a necessity for a contract renewal],” Matt Lederer, vice president for branded partnerships and activation at Comcast, told SBJ.
“But I would say that as we’ve learned the sport over the last ten years, we’ve learned the ecosystem of Nascar has a lot of tentacles and there’s a lot of ways to engage with the fanbase.
“The Xfinity Series for us has been the gold star across all those areas, but it’s a little too early to say what a new deal would look like.”
In 2021, Comcast upgraded its Xfinity sponsorship deal with Nascar, becoming a premier partner of the Cup Series alongside Busch Light, Coca-Cola, and Geico. The brand also has a team deal with 23XI Racing, co-owned by National Basketball Association (NBA) icon Michael Jordan and current Nascar driver Denny Hamlin.
Lederer continued: “We’ve both had a strong relationship over the last ten years and I’ve said it many times, it’s been an extremely beneficial partnership to our brand and business and a very valuable partnership for the business and brand of Nascar.
“And what I would say is we’re really confident and optimistic that Nascar is doing all the right things to capitalise on all the changes going on within the racing industry as a whole, and we appreciate the changes that have been made over the last few years and the direction of the team and [Nascar President] Steve [Phelps] to further engage fans, find new fans – that’s fantastic and we share that optimistic view.
“Right now, we’re engaged with Nascar to explore what a potential continued relationship could look like across the sport as a whole.”
Nascar’s second-tier series moving to The CW Network will give Comcast pause for thought when considering this contract extension.
The CW is a largely unproven network when it comes to sports broadcasting, but its majority owner Nexstar has started to build a small rights portfolio, including LIV Golf and a package of 50 college football and basketball games from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Whether this will be enough to convince Comcast to stick with its current arrangement or look for a restructured sponsorship deal remains to be seen.
With shifting consumer needs, the company could pivot towards its Xfinity Mobile brand, which was the primary sponsor on the 23XI Racing car of Tyler Reddick at Nascar’s last race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
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