A Link In The Chain: How Global Football Fandom Is Fuelled By Sports Kits

By Jeremy Bauer, Global Commercial Director, Embelex at Avery Dennison RBIS


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Only one in a hundred[1] fans supporting well-known Premier League teams are actually from the UK – a widely-quoted stat, and for good reason. It confirms the extent to which football is a global phenomenon, connecting people whether they live in Salford or Soweto. And the humble football shirt is an age-old symbol of this unity.


Shirts are worn with pride by millions of fans during and long after tournaments. These garments are a physical link to memorable moments in time, and they embody the raw emotions people feel for their teams and heroes on the pitch. Top tournaments, including competitions like the recent World Cup in 2022, and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup drive massive sales in shirts. In fact, at Qatar, nearly every national team sported a redesigned kit, sparking huge demand for branded replica shirts, boosting the coffers of sportswear brands.


Personalisation of kits takes this relationship one step further, and now Digital ID technology applied to garments is taking that connection to an even more engaging level. The intersection between the physical and digital worlds is intriguing, and sports and apparel brands are beginning to experiment, uncovering innovative ways to maximise the fan experience.


Personalisation ups the engagement level

Replica kits are very big business, but it’s an evolving one. New trends in personalisation and customisation using high-speed heat transfer printing on shirts present strong commercial opportunities for retailers, clubs and even grassroots local teams and sports centres. Agility and speed in manufacturing and embellishing are worth achieving, if you want to get the most from this lucrative revenue stream.


The football apparel market share is expected to increase by USD 2.62 billion from 2020 to 2025, and the market’s growth momentum will accelerate at a CAGR of 4.97%, according to industry research.[2] It’s big business to say the least.


The good news is that embellishment providers are now harnessing the latest technology to keep up with the demand for printed images and embellishments on kits. These include laser-cut graphics, printed images, names and logos. They can also be applied to non-licensed merchandise, from kids’ pyjamas to hoodies.


Thanks to software and high-precision, high-speed production processes, it’s become easier for independent stores, clubs and organisations to offer personalised clothing and accessories quickly and cost-effectively, on site. On-demand production through semi- automation and downloadable software are enabling new business models to reach local markets. Thanks to the affordability of the latest heat transfer application software and hardware,[3] smaller firms can easily set themselves up to print football shirts on-demand, no matter where in the world they’re located.


Larger retailers will use an external supplier to manage high volumes of printed and personalised sportwear for a global customer base. In this case, it will help to team with a supplier with access to global distribution centres, for the necessary stock to be supplied on a just-in-time basis, cutting waste and lost revenues to a minimum. 

Full-service, on-product branding and customisation, such as that provided by Avery Dennison’s Embelex[4] product line, can guarantee speed and agility. We have large manufacturing centres dotted around the globe, where we can personalise garments at scale.


Smart shirts are taking off

Digitally-enabled embellishments are transforming football shirts into ‘smart shirts’, with digital triggers embedded in their logos or badges. These connect to a Digital Product Passport (DPP) stored in the cloud – an interesting proposition for sportswear brands, teams, sponsors, and fans alike.


Through these scannable smart heat transfers or QR codes on garments, embellishments and packaging, consumers can access apps and digital content through their smartphones. It’s an ideal opportunity for clubs to introduce sports marketing and fanbase-building through much-loved garments.


The aim is to further enhance people’s experiences while creating an online space where teams can find new ways to tailor experiences and target specific consumers. Smart technology attached to textiles can help build engagement, by providing online information and incentives to participants, reached through the physical kits they love to buy and wear.


For example, smart shirts can enable fans to access online competitions for tickets, video content, social media fanbase discussions, and much more. There’s even the opportunity for one-to-one, personalised marketing through this interactive communication channel.


Meeting demand when it matters

To give fans the jerseys and T-shirts they want, with the right messaging, just when it matters to them most is a business goal worth pursuing. Cutting waste in the supply chain matters too. Just-in-time production and on-demand printing will increasingly make this possible, supported by the latest digital trigger technology. We’ve seen that ‘guessing at’ quantities and events can lead to shortfalls and waste.


In December 2022 it was reported that adidas had completely run out[5] of Lionel Messi’s Argentina No.10 shirt in the lead up to last year’s World Cup final. Fans couldn’t get hold of the shirt, triggering production and sales of counterfeits. Meanwhile, UK businessman and footie fan Karl Baxter was left with 18,000 useless printed T-shirts which wrongly herald England as World Cup champions, before we learnt that football, sadly, would not be ‘coming home’.


The time is ripe to offer customers the chance to purchase and personalise their items with ease, speed and at low cost. Let’s hope fans of the beautiful game won’t be so disappointed in the years to come.











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