Stride et al (2015) described the football shirt as of iconic significance, defining a club’s visual identity through its role as a sporting uniform and fan identifier, providing a canvas for commercial interactions and increasingly acting as the focus of nostalgia and collector culture.
In Uganda, the local sports shops downtown and across the country are stocked with foreign club football shirts of the top five leagues; especially the English Premier League, and this is to the supporters who gained affection over the years through live broadcasts on television.
Uganda Premier League clubs flagged off a campaign to encourage soccer lovers to wear domestic soccer jerseys (wear your local jersey) with the hope to enhance the visibility of the indigenous football brand and tap into the local shirt sales market. This comes with opportunities and yet challenges that need to be addressed.
In the 2016/17 season, the top tier League of Uganda Football, a team from West Nile-Arua, Onduparaka Football Club was sportingly promoted and brought along a fanbase that re-ignited the enthusiasm in local support for soccer.
They flocked stadiums adorned in their club’s jerseys, wrist bands, flags, and branded “vuvuzelas” which made them a conspicuous lot. Events leading to the club’s matchdays brought activities at Arua Park, the transport hub midst the capital to a standstill and the euphoria that surrounds a game at the Green Light Stadium, home to Onduparaka Football Club is nostalgic.
Firms yearned to associate with the phenomenal Onduparaka F.C. Multimillion sponsorship deals total worth UGX 690 Million with MTN and Betway was signed which earned them space on the club Jersey.
The Onduparaka F.C surge coincided with Sports Club Villa under Ben Missaga reviving their challenge for honors in Ugandan Football, Vipers Sports Club emerging as perennial challengers. KCCA F.C was participating yet again in continental football.
The successes that were being registered both off and on-field attracted fans to the stadiums. The love to be identified with the club attracted more shirt sales.
Shirt sales are definitely a useful source of revenue for a club, However, in most cases, marginal revenues are realized. For example in 2019 KCCA F.C acquired a sponsorship deal which includes branding of sponsors logo on the shirt and this contributed Uganda Shillings 1.033 Billion which accounted for only 27% of the total revenue of Uganda Shillings 3.853 Billion whereas the sales of merchandise fetched Uganda Shillings 25M which is 1% of the Club’s total revenue.
The Twenty Five Million Uganda Shillings does not include acquisition costs of the merchandise prior to sale which is probably 85% of the sales price. Acquiring the merchandise means tying capital of the club in stock of merchandise, and the alternative would be to acquire a Kit deal.
Express F.C announced Umbro in the coming season will be supplying them with branded kits, not as a kits sponsor so is true of Vipers F.C last season acquiring kits from Adidas.
Cohen (2018) argues that “Independent Kit deals are not traditional sponsorship deals – they are licensing deals, which enable the kit manufacturers to use the club’s brand to sell branded apparel. Kit manufacturers have the global distribution networks necessary to manufacture, ship, and sell hundreds of thousands, or in some cases, millions of shirts each year.”
However, at the moment, it can be argued that the brand visibility of a single local club and likely volumes for shirt sales of any of the local club in the Uganda Premier League is not attractive for renowned kit manufacturers like Nike, Adidas, Umbro, Under Armour, among others.
The legal regime which has failed to tackle the problem of counterfeited product and so the jerseys might as well deter kit manufacturers from exploring this emerging market.
For example, the Uganda Cranes jersey is a popular product of FUFA the local football governing body, and over the years has been counterfeited which translates to a colossal loss in revenue to the Federation.
In a bid to alleviate the problem above, the federation managed to register its trademarks; FUFA Logo, Federation of Uganda Football Associations, and its abbreviation FUFA.
Ahmed Hussein the FUFA Communications manager reiterated the call by the local governing body via the local club agenda to patent their trademarks to avoid any future infringements on their logos.
FUFA later sought a kit manufacturer and Mafro were assigned the contract as the sole producer of the Uganda Cranes jerseys (FUFA, 2019).
It is very encouraging to see the Wear Your Local Jersey Campaign being spearheaded by KCAA F.C, a club with a corporate attachment. If URA F.C can follow suit and convince the executives at either institution to incorporate the soccer shirts as Friday wears in their policies, the faster we shall achieve a shift in appreciating the soccer shirts.
The onus then will be onto individual clubs to ensure the aesthetics of the soccer shirts are appealing to fans and can also serve the purpose of leisurewear, thereby helping to push the wear your local jersey campaign.
Considering the multiple uses of the soccer shirt, but especially that it provides space for commercial interactions, the UPL Secretariat should consider exploiting such an opportunity by selling the product as a group and not leave it out to individual clubs.
Also by leveraging based on numbers, the UPL secretariat can engage stakeholders to secure a Kit sponsorship deal and in this case, clubs do not have to pre-finance such investments and can concentrate on core operations.
This article has been contributed to the Touchline Sports by Yasir A. Radwan