England fans’ fury over £90 football shirt

Symbols of pride: Or are these shirts simply an expensive marketing ploy?

Following the game of football has become increasingly expensive, but fans say that Nike’s price tag for its 2014 World Cup shirt goes too far. Is it really fair game or just foul play?

‘Stand up for your nation’, ‘Don’t just watch them, join them’, ‘Risk everything’. The slogans sound as if they are part of an army recruitment drive, but they are from Nike’s advertising campaign for its new range of England replica football shirts. It suggests that to show their patriotism all loyal fans need to do is buy shirts of their own.

There is a catch, however. The adult ‘Athlete Match Day’ versions of the shirt, which are worn by members of the England team, cost a hefty £90, while a child’s shirt is £42.

Fans are flabbergasted and the newspapers are in an uproar. Former England players on Twitter called it ‘appalling’, and a ‘joke’. MPs have registered their disgust and even David Cameron has called on Nike to ‘rethink’ its pricing.

Many see this as yet another example of real fans being priced out of the game. The cost of top-notch match tickets has risen drastically in the last two decades, with the cheapest ticket to see Liverpool at Anfield now 1,000% more than it was in 1989. Then to watch the games on TV, fans have to pay for expensive subscriptions from broadcasters like BSkyB.

Sociologists say the shirts are particularly meaningful to fans, and often symbolise identity and belonging in similar ways as national flags.

The owner of Cardiff City upset thousands of fans when he changed the club’s kit from its traditional blue to red which he thinks is a luckier colour. And when a Tottenham Hotspur player threw his shirt on the ground after being substituted, angry supporters chanted, ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt.’

Yet historians say that replica shirts have always been about profit. In earlier times fans simply wore scarves in their team’s colours. But in 1973, Leeds United’s legendary manager Don Revie made a deal allowing a kit manufacturer to sell replica shirts in exchange for royalties. Shirt sponsorship deals soon followed, and now these often bring in millions of pounds. Given their relatively recent origins as a money-spinner, why do we care so much about these shirts?

Badge of pride

Some people cannot see an issue. The price may be high and the shirts may only cost a few pounds to manufacture, but no one is forcing fans to buy them. It is the game that matters after all, not the replica jerseys. And why would adults want to pay so much just to become a walking billboard for the club’s sponsor?

Others argue that things are not so simple. Children often pressure their parents into buying them the shirts or may be bullied for not having one. And new kits appear all the time: England’s last one was used for only seven games. The teams and manufacturers are exploiting those most passionate about the sport and it must stop.

You Decide

  1. Is £90 too much to ask for a football shirt?
  2. Should we think of what we wear as symbolic of who we are?

Activities

  1. Football shirts are thought to symbolise identity. Design a football shirt with meaningful colours, to represent either yourself, your group of friends, or your class. Compare with the class and pick the best.
  2. International football teams often base the colour of their kit on their country’s flag. Research six world flags and find out what they symbolise. Make a presentation.

Some People Say...

“Football has sold its soul for money.”

What do you think?

Q & A

But I don’t like football so why does this matter?
Even if you are not a fan, many would say the real issue is not the sport but the commercialisation and exploitation of something beloved by so many. They say the fans’ support can give a team a huge psychological boost – it is not right that this should be repaid with rip off prices for merchandise.
Why does football have to be such a big money-making business?
Many fans look to Germany’s model as an alternative. In Germany’s league, the fans themselves must own at least 51% of a club. This means that supporters can set the prices for tickets, which are substantially cheaper than in the UK. Many more fans can afford to see games live, and this has contributed to German stadia having what are widely regarded as the best atmospheres in Europe.

Word Watch

Cost
A cheaper ‘Stadium Day’ version of the shirt is available at £60, but many would consider even this very expensive. And as one footballer pointed out, parents will feel pressured to get their children the more expensive of the two.
1,000%
Whereas the cheapest ticket was once £4, now it is £45. While inflation obviously plays a part, this is a substantial price increase.
BSkyB
BSkyB and BT secured the rights to broadcast 154 matches for the 2013/14 season, which raised £3.018bn for the Premier League.
Red
The club’s owner is an ethnically-Chinese Malaysian. Red is considered a lucky colour in Chinese culture. Thousands of the club’s fans are still protesting.
Revie
Don Revie managed Leeds United between 1969 and 1974. His team won the league twice as well as two European cups. His tactics were controversial and outside of the city his team became known as ‘Dirty Leeds’.
Followed
The first deal was brokered by one of Kettering Town’s strikers and a local paint company. Now, Aon pays £15m a year to be featured on the front of Manchester United’s shirts.

Subjects

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