It has been 10 days since the Indian football team first wore its new jersey, designed and manufactured by American sports apparel giant Nike. The team wore the jersey for the first time on June 6 during a friendly with Nepal in Mumbai and, later, against Kyrgyzstan in an AFC Asian Cup qualifying match earlier this week.
However, the jersey is still not available for purchase in Nike stores, whether brick-and-mortar or online. E-tailers such as Amazon, Flipkart and Myntra also have no stock of the jersey, whether the new one or older versions.
Nike has made no official announcement regarding when the jersey will be made available for purchase. When The Field contacted the company, a spokesperson said that the jersey “will be launched soon”, but did not specify a date.
The Field rang up at least 15 Nike stores across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, asking them if they knew anything about the launch. All stores The Field contacted said that they had no idea when the new jersey will be launched, or even if it will be launched. Some even said that they had never ever received an Indian football jersey in the past.
That isn’t to say the Indian football jersey has never been available for purchase. Nike first came on board as the Indian team’s official jersey manufacturer in 2006, when the company signed a seven-year deal with the All India Football Federation. The contract was renewed for another five years in 2013.
“I bought my first jersey in 2007,” said Nikhil Sharma, an Indian football fan and CEO of Anglian Management Group. “Then I bought another one in 2010. But ever since I have seen only one jersey available, I think on Myntra, maybe three years ago.”
Fans and people from the industry all told The Field that the India jersey has not been available for at least the last three years. “The last time the jersey was available was in 2013,” said Ashish Negi, who has been an Indian football fan since 2010.
“It was available in local markets and at online retailers, but it went out of stock very soon,” he added. “After that, fans haven’t been able to buy the jersey all over India. Maybe a knockoff might be available somewhere, but not the original one. The only way fans can get a jersey right now is through their peers, or if the AIFF decides to run a contest and gives away the jersey as a prize.”
What’s in the contract
To understand what’s going on here, let’s first go to the contract signed between the kit manufacturer and the federation. Who decides whether the jerseys will go on sale or not? Experts from the industry said that it is mostly the manufacturer’s prerogative.
Here’s how it works: Manufacturers go to a federation asking for an official licensing contract for the kit. The federation awards the contract to the highest bidder. The winning bidder gets the manufacturing license and the status of being the official team sponsor. It has to give the federation money, kits and other equipment, and whatever else is stipulated in the contract.
But then, it is completely the manufacturer’s call to do whatever they want to in terms of commercialising the jersey. “If they see a demand, they will put the jersey out. If they don’t see a demand, they will not,” said an industry expert who did not wish to be named. Does the federation have no say in this? Not if you are the AIFF, said Vinay Shenoy, a sports marketing consultant.
“Even if the AIFF would have wanted the jerseys to be sold, it wouldn’t have had any say in the matter because it is not a very strong federation,” Shenoy said. “Football as a sport is a far second to cricket in terms of popularity in India. I doubt the AIFF has a say in the matter.”
At times, it may be stipulated in the contract that the manufacturer has to produce X number of jerseys for retail. “But I don’t think contracts in Indian football are so structured right now wherein retail is also addressed,” said Sharma. “It depends on whether it was discussed in the contract [between Nike and AIFF]. I’m not aware of it.”
When The Field contacted AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das, he said that Nike is contractually obligated to sell jerseys in the retail market, but did not specify how many. “Nike is supposed to give a 20% - 25% royalty to the AIFF from whatever sales are done,” he said. “This has always been there in the contract from the beginning.”
Asked about the missing India jerseys from the market for the last three years, Das said that the AIFF has taken up the matter with Nike “quite a few times”, adding that the company hasn’t fulfilled its end of the deal. The Field contacted Nike with a detailed questionnaire about its contract with the AIFF, but didn’t get a response till this report was published.
Is there a demand?
But why is Nike not producing the jerseys anymore? Why are they not commercialising a product on which they have spent time and manpower? While Nike has not yet responded to these questions, the answer is simple, according to industry experts: Demand. Or lack of.
An official team jersey manufactured by Nike or Adidas costs approximately Rs 5,000. The Indian cricket team’s jersey, for example, also manufactured by Nike, costs Rs 5,295 on their website. That of Barcelona, one of the world’s most popular football clubs, costs Rs 4,695.
“If you are going to manufacture a Rs 5,000 jersey, you can’t make just 100 or 200 of them,” said Mandar Tamhane, chief technical officer of Bengaluru FC. “You have to manufacture in bulk and that comes at a cost. For that you need to have a demand.”
To get returns out of jerseys in India is an extremely tough business, experts said, since the culture of buying team jerseys is not so prevalent in the country yet, except for perhaps European football clubs.
“I think Nike feels that if the [India football] jersey doesn’t sell out, the cost of producing it, putting it out, occupying shelves in stores… there is a cost of distribution that they might not be able to recover, which I think makes business sense,” said Sharma. “But I think they might start selling the India jersey online if football continues to pick up [in the country] the way it is.”
The way around
However, Tamhane disagreed that there is no culture of buying jerseys in India. His Bengaluru FC is one of the few football clubs in the country that sells jerseys and other official merchandise to fans. BFC has had German sports apparel maker Puma as its official kit manufacturer for the last two seasons.
“Jerseys and merchandising is a very important factor to us,” Tamhane said. “We don’t just sell jerseys. There are a lot of other things we sell too, like t-shirts, caps and scarves. We have been selling jerseys from season one, when we didn’t even have a [manufacturing] partner. We produced the jerseys ourselves. Puma came in season two.”
Tamhane even had a solution to not having enough demand for jerseys priced at Rs 5,000. “When we manufacture our jersey at BFC, we ensure there is a toned-down version available at a cost that is accessible to the fans,” he said. “This jersey is identical to what the players wear, but it is a replica, not the same one. There isn’t much of a difference, though. The replica costs around Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 and is produced by Puma only. It is available at Puma stores across Bengaluru.”
BFC has been selling anywhere between 1,500 – 1,700 replica jerseys per season, according to Tamhane. How did the club initially figure out if there will be such a demand? “You have to take a risk and put the product out,” he said. “You have to cultivate a demand. It can’t happen on its own. That is in our hands. Initially, you might print 2,000 jerseys and only 500 may sell, but you still have to keep on doing it. As a club, that’s how it works. I don’t know about the national team.”
Will Indian football ever ‘Bleed Blue’?
Why Nike hasn’t thought of a similar solution for the Indian football jersey, only the company itself can answer. But this isn’t the first time Nike has been lethargic about its commercialisation strategy when it comes to the Indian market.
When Nike first became the official jersey manufacturer of the Indian cricket team, in 2005, the company did not sell the jersey for the first four years, according to an official who was aware of the deal but requested not to be named. “Towards the end of the fourth year, they came up with the ‘Bleed Blue’ campaign ahead of the 2011 World Cup,” the official said.
“Before that, there were only knockoffs available,” the official added. “That was the attitude when it came to a sport that is really big in India. That contract with the Indian cricket board was worth $42 million over a five-year period. What do you think they would do with a sport like football which has a very niche following in the country, and in which the Indian team does not have such a good global position?”
The Indian senior football team is not taking part in any major tournament this year, but the 2017 Under-17 Fifa World Cup is being hosted by India in October. As Nike continues to hold on to selling the India jersey, football fans in the country can only hope that they can also “Bleed Blue” come October.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.