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February/March 2011


over load?

In the current trading conditions, retailers will welcome anything to improve sales. Yet, retailers expressed some reservations about an initiative like Magnificent Fridays, which urges the nation to go forth and buy shirts to show their support for our national cricket, netball and rugby teams competing in World Cups this year. FANIE HEYNS asked them what their concerns are

The introduction of a new social network to galvanize the nation’s support behind our national teams, starting with Protea Friday, have been welcomed by local retailers as praiseworthy efforts to endorse the replica wear of the team on its way to the World Cup ... but many retailers approached by Sports Trader expressed reservations about the successful sales of replica merchandise.

The idea of the Magnificent Fridays stems from Football Fridays in 2010, when South Africans donned football jerseys every Friday to rally behind national squad Bafana Bafana. During that period there was an overwhelming demand for Bafana Bafana replica, or any kind of supporter’s jersey, failing all else, yellow t-shirts.

With SRSA actively encouraging people to support the Protea Fridays with countrywide events on Fridays, the public response has been enthusiastic. Cricket SA (CSA) has also been doing a lot to whip up support for the national cricket team, Since June 2009 their Facebook page has gained over 82 000 fans and Twitter has attracted over 12 000 followers, says Kass Naidoo, brand and corporate relations manager of CSA.

“CSA has produced 40 000 Protea supporter badges, which are being distributed at the UbuntuNOW road shows around the country. We are also taking the Pure Protea World Cup spirit around the country in twelve planned road shows to communities in our affiliate regions,” she says.

Sponsor change

One of the retailers’ main concerns is the late announcement (less than two weeks before the start of the ICC World Cup in India) that adidas would be the new clothing sponsor.

Between the announcement of the Magnificent Fridays initiative on January 10 and February 2, when the new adidas replica shirt was launched, there was hardly a Protea shirt to spare. Reebok was certainly not going to manufacture thousands of shirts once they knew that the sponsorship was changing.

Obviously adidas had been aware of the change in clothing sponsor many months ago (Reebok and adidas are in the same stable) and the news had filtered through to some key customers.

“We suspected something of this nature in the industry a few months ago, so we were not caught unawares,” says the merchandise manager of a major retailer. They were therefore not stumped by the change in the clothing sponsor and were therefore able to place their orders with adidas four to six months ago.

Gavin Cowley, marketing director of adidas, confirmed that supply of replica product is essentially governed by demand from retailers. He says the orders were comprehensive, and surpassed clothing orders for replica and supporter wear for 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Adidas has fulfilled the orders to these retailers, and even kept some stock in reserve, but not too much.

Other, independent retailers, who were not in the loop were, however, caught unawares and now have to scramble to source some of the reserve stock.

Keith McLaren of Planet Sports is positive about Protea Fridays, but he says the only way to solve potential supply problems is for the supplier to carry enough back-up stock. He said the 2010 FIFA World Cup was good for business, but it could have been much better because “adidas could not fulfil our orders.”

Retailers not commit

The main problem faced by the distributor of any event-related merchandise is that you need a crystal ball and plenty of luck to try and predict the demand for the products in advance. Replica or supporters wear only have a shelf life as long as support for a team lasts.

The problem is compounded by the fact that retailers often don’t want to commit to pre-orders — but blame the supplier when customer demand is high and there is no more merchandise, says Daryl Kroll of Captive Brands, supplier of the official licensed IRB World Cup caps, gloves and scarves.

“My last shipments are arriving in July,” he says, “retailers who want to wait until then or when consumer demand is high, will miss the boat because it will be too late to manufacture or import additional merchandise,” he warns.

“With two further World Cup’s in 2011, will the emphasis switch to netball on 2 April and then rugby thereafter?” adds Cowley

Trying to off-load thousands of unwanted items is a retailer and supplier’s worst nightmare. “If you incorrectly predicted what the demand would be, you could quite easily burn your fingers. Once the Bafana Bafana team was knocked out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, demand died almost immediately,” says Lambros Koutsoudis of Footballer & Sport.

Predict demand

“The ICC World Cup event is not such a major, big international event like to FIFA World Cup, where people will buy replica as a matter of course. While I have ordered what I think should be enough, it is very difficult to try and predict what the demand will be. This is what makes our industry so difficult,” he says.

An added complication for retailers is that the current ICC World Cup replica shirts will become obsolete after the world cup, as Standard Bank will terminate its contract with Cricket SA, says the merchandise manager.

Another factor that could compromise sales, is how successful the SA cricket team will be at the World Cup. “They might reach the quarter-finals, but we are uncertain what will happen after that,” he says.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup was good for business, but there were on-going problems with supply of replica and the public demand declined as soon as SA was out of the competition, agrees his brother Theo Koutsoudis of Action Sports. “As a result, many retailers were left with high stock levels of World Cup merchandise.”

Therefore, when Brad Bing of AP Jones heard about the announcement of Protea Fridays, his first reaction was: Haven’t we just seen all of this. “My concern is not to get burnt by stock,” he says.

Compete other shirts

The sale of cricket — and later netball — replica will also have to compete with the sale of Springbok rugby supporters wear as we get closer to the IRB World Cup. In-between there will be the netball world cup in July, for which Leisure Holdings have been asked to develop a Magnificent Friday supporter shirt (the official Netball SA sponsor had not yet been announced when we went to print).

“Many people are keen to buy a special rugby replica shirt with the successful campaigns of 1995 and 2007 emblazoned on it, something that will be available in April,” says the merchandise director. “The availability of these shirts, as well as the 2011 IRB World Cup replica shirt prior to the tournament in September, might impact on potential purchases by cricketing fans of the cricket replica shirt.

“Passionate Bafana supporters will continue to upgrade to the latest shirts, whilst the general supporter will be slightly more circumspect about purchasing and may wear an older shirt for a period of time, until they can afford a new shirt,” says Fernando Ventura, marketing director of Foschini Sports.

While the announcement of Protea Friday was good for retail and it created a positive vibe, the sales of the Protea replica wear will not be at the same level as the replica gear for Bafana Bafana, believes Theo Koutsoudis.

With any major sporting event in which SA teams take part — particularly a World Cup where we have a chance of winning — this support will reflect in a spike in sales, says Mark Ridl of Super-Brands, suppliers of the Canterbury Springbok jersey. “Having said this, I think it is fair to say that cricket replica will not enjoy the same spike that rugby replica will receive before and during the IRB World Cup, due to the differences in the supporter culture of the two sports.

“Another factor to consider is that a large majority of the sporting public purchased Bafana Bafana jerseys during the World Cup. Some may feel that to invest another R599 on a cricket jersey may just be too much and will rather show their support by wearing their soccer jerseys,” says Ridl.

Replica overload

“We will certainly reach overload in the minds of the general public if every sport promotes a Friday shirt to support that particular sporting code, as consumers will become bored or feel that they are being exploited for commercial gain,” agrees Ventura. “For events to strike a chord with the general public, the event has to be popular with a large supporter base locally, or take place in SA, and be accessible to the viewing public.”

In addition to buying national team shirts, fans also want to wear shirts to show support of their Super Rugby, Currie Cup or PSL teams.

While he believes Protea Friday is a fantastic idea that unites the nation, Yusuf Badat of I.G. Hoosen & Co. says “I would rather like to see one universal shirt that would consolidate all sporting codes for supporters, because that is what I am witnessing in the stadiums. People are wearing their Bafana copy shirts. It is a plain simple yellow and gold shirt with the SA flag and it is a no brand shirt. It saves cost and is affordable to all.”

This is also happening overseas, agrees Ridl. “For example, expats living around the globe often wear any jersey to any sporting fixture as long as they show their support to SA. I think that this is also happening on a local level. It is seen as acceptable to wear any jersey as long as it is your South African colours.

“Suppliers almost need to start looking at tangible added benefits for purchasing a particular replica, whether it be a direct message of thanks from the team captain or a unique code that they receive, acknowledging their affiliation to the team. This is easier said than done, but something must be done to differentiate the sports as though the consumer was buying into different brands,” he added.

Cheaper options

People are already buying cheaper supporter shirts in the South African colours for Magnificent Fridays and this will impact on the proper replica shirt sales, says Ridl.

Retailers therefore also have to predict where the highest demand will be: for genuine replica, or the cheaper supporters’ shirts.

The adidas replica of the players’ jersey sells at R599, but there is a CSA cricket jersey with an International Cricket Council badge as well as the Protea on it on the market for R149. The genuine replicas will look different to the on-field jerseys as they will have the traditional adidas 3-stripes, but the ICC rules prohibit the players from wearing branding on playing kits during tournaments.

“The level of interest in Protea wear is high, but I don’ think you can compare it to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, says Richard Glover, commercial manager of CSA. “The fact the tournament was hosted in SA and is arguably the biggest event in world sport created unprecedented levels of interest in tournament and team merchandise. We are hopeful we will be able to provide enough supporters’ wear to satisfy the demand. We are guided by the retailers on this because it is obviously not our core business and they know the market better than us.

“Our merchandise footprint is not as wide as we would like and we are taking steps to ensure Proteas supporters wear — at different price points — is available to as many fans as possible.” While CSA supplies their supporters’ wear to retailers, they also sell via their website and in stadiums at international matches.

Supply and counterfeit

“Another major challenge for the manufacturers of the genuine replica shirt would be to combat fake replicas,” says Ridl.

As was seen during the 2007 IRB World Cup as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup, supporters keen to show their colours have no qualms about where they buy their shirts, and counterfeiters selling on street corners had a field day, especially when the genuine product wasn’t freely available.

A possible way to manage potential supply-problems is to allow more manufacturers the right to use the Protea in garment manufacturing, suggests Mike Augoustides of Mikes Sports.

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