Three months after the Indian national football team first wore it for a match, the new official jersey was finally made available for sale by manufacturer Nike earlier this month. Why Nike made Indian football fans wait so long to purchase the jersey is something we wrote about earlier. But even after the rather delayed launch, Nike’s public-relations nightmare wasn’t over.

As soon as the jersey was made available for sale, Indian football fans took to Twitter to vent against the American sports apparel giant yet again. This time, it was for the price of the jersey, which would burn a Rs 4,695-sized hole in your pocket. If you’re purchasing it online, you also have to pay a “delivery and handling” fee of Rs 750, which makes the total cost of the jersey Rs 5,445.

Even if you consider just the Rs 4,695, the Indian football jersey costs as much as that of Chelsea Football Club and Rs 200 more than those of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, all of whom are manufactured by Nike. It also costs Rs 700 more than the India cricket jersey, which Nike is currently selling for Rs 3,995 in their stores.

“The 2017 Nike India football jersey is priced at par with Nike’s other club and national kits,” said an official spokesperson of the company, when asked how they had decided on the price.

That sounds about fair, right? Not according to Indranil Das Blah, CEO of Mumbai City FC, a franchise of the Indian Super League.

“Football is not in the same place cricket is today,” Blah told The Field. “You can charge a premium for cricket jerseys and you know people will still buy it. But the biggest challenge we have for football today is to make it mass-y and take it to a lot more people. If you price yourself significantly out of the market, what is the point?”

The India football jersey costs Rs 700 more than the cricket one (Image: AIFF)

A Mumbai City FC jersey, manufactured by German sports apparel maker Puma, was selling for under Rs 1,000 last season, according to Blah. “If you look at the ISL clubs, the most expensive jersey would be for Rs 1,500 and these are all international quality. There is no compromise on the fabric used. If that’s the case then why is the Indian football jersey priced so high? Is it laced with gold?”

Not gold, but the Indian football jersey is made of “breathable, sweat-wicking fabric to help keep you cool, dry and comfortable,” according to Nike’s website. The jersey is also called “2017 India Stadium Home”. Why “stadium”? It’s the name Nike has given this particular variety of team jerseys that it sells.

Three types of jerseys

Apart from the original team kit that the players wear, a manufacturer usually produces at least two other variants for retail, which are lower in quality and, thereby, price. The official jerseys are usually produced in very small amounts – for the team and maybe a 1,000 more for retail, according to a professional from the industry who requested anonymity.

The official team jerseys are made after consulting with the design teams and taking into account the kind of technology that needs to be added to ensure that players are comfortable and able to move without hindrance. These jerseys are sent directly to the team or the national federation, while a limited quantity is made available for retail. These so-called pinnacle jerseys are obviously the most expensive variety available for purchase.

In India, Nike sells the pinnacle jerseys of football clubs such as Chelsea, which is “the same shirt worn by the pros on the pitch, featuring Nike AeroSwift technology for exceptional breathability and lightweight mobility,” according to the description given on their website. This jersey will make you poorer by Rs 6,595.

The next version available to consumers is the “stadium” or commercial variety, which the India football jersey available for retail belongs to. “These are replica jerseys whose look and feel is exactly like the original but do not need to be made according to the match conditions,” said a former employee of Nike who requested anonymity. “It is what they call commercial quality and can be worn on an everyday basis.” These jerseys are in the Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 range.

“There is a third variety that is made especially for value-conscious markets such as India,” said the person quoted above. “They are called supporter tees. These almost have the same colour and design elements [as the original] but they don’t really look exactly like the players’ jerseys. They are downgraded versions with slightly lower quality and are thus priced much lower, in the Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 range. The idea is to give an affordable price to the consumer.” The Barcelona supporter tee, officially called “dry match” by Nike, is made of “soft, sweat-wicking fabric” and is priced at Rs 1,995.

Apart from the original team kit that the players wear, a manufacturer usually produces at least two other variants for retail (Image: AIFF)

Apart from these three jersey variants, sports kit manufacturers such as Nike and Adidas also sell other team merchandise such as cotton t-shirts, shorts, socks, jackets, training tees, and other sport-related equipment. “The idea is to commercialise the limited commodity as much as possible by selling as many products as you can,” said the person quoted above.

Flawed strategy

This brings us to the following questions: Why is Nike not doing the same with Indian football? Why is the supporter tee not being manufactured, leave alone other merchandise? Nike did not respond to these questions, saying it went against their “global policy”.

“If you have 100 consumers, maybe five will be able to pay for your pinnacle jersey,” said the person quoted above. “Twenty others may pay for something that is one level down. The remaining 75 won’t be able to afford either of the two so you have to capture those consumers too somehow. That’s why you make the supporter tees. I don’t know why Nike is not making them for India football.”

The Field also asked people from the sports apparel industry how much do such jerseys actually cost to make. The answer provided by most people was around 30%-40% of the retail price, which is anywhere between Rs 1,400 to Rs 1,900 for the “stadium” or commercial variety. Another 30% goes to the manufacturer’s retail partners, which are basically the distributors or franchise store owners. The manufacturer pockets the rest of the 30%.

“Any apparel maker would keep such a margin because it also has to account for unsold inventory, which means the product has to be sold at a discount at the end of the season,” said a professional from the sports apparel industry, who also requested anonymity since he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media. “Add to that employee discounts of about 40% but the manufacturer and its retailer/franchise still ends up making money from the product.”

Another important factor in the pricing is India’s 10% customs duty on imported textiles and textile articles, and other taxes such as GST. All the official sports team jerseys are imported from the manufacturer-authorized factories in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China or Sri Lanka, via the company’s regional headquarters.

However, Blah feels that a sports team jersey cannot be priced more than Rs 2,500 in the Indian market. “As consumers, Indians are extremely price conscious,” he said. “Every Rs 100 makes a huge difference. And this the football market, which is even smaller.”

The solution, according to Blah is to have a jersey option that is even cheaper than the supporter tee. “You can have an expensive jersey – and when I say expensive I mean nothing more than Rs 2,500 – and have another one of cheaper quality for the masses to wear, which should be under Rs 1,000,” he said.

“There is no way I am going to spend Rs 4,500 on a jersey,” he added. “I won’t do it for my favourite club, which is Barcelona. Yes, we are talking about the Indian football jersey here and I am patriotic but spending that kind of money on a jersey is just stupid.”