Commercial Director Matt Everett brings us his monthly update from behind the scenes
A month has certainly flown by since my last update just ahead of the Manchester City match.
Ahead of the 125th Anniversary celebrations this weekend it seems a good chance to update supporters, particularly given the attention we have received this week concerning our commemorative shirt to mark the occasion.
I fully understand that this has divided opinion somewhat!
Commercially, it is always a delicate balancing act between generating the revenue needed to sustain the club and move us forward and not price fans out of the game. I can assure everybody that supporters are at the heart of our decision making, and feel that, as with the Manchester City ticket allocation, it is important to explain what we consider when making the commercial decisions. That is of course not to say that we will always be right! However there is often more to these situations than may meet the eye.
In this case for the anniversary kit, and with Puma as our kit manufacturer, we had absolutely no option other than to pick the most appropriate Puma kit that we could. The commemorative shirt we felt HAD to be the same as the team would play in, and the first team kit has to be appropriate material and provided by Puma. I know that we have had bespoke kits in the past, however with a leading global manufacturer there will never be this option when ordering a limited number of shirts.
To achieve bespoke designs we’d be looking at placing an order in the thousands. Given the numbers we achieve from our Home & Away Shirts we didn’t see this as an option for the anniversary shirt that would be worn for just one game. Indeed clubs which sell far more kit also have the same terms. I have been familiar with the play off between bespoke kit and major manufacturer since I was at Stoke City in 2008/09 and they switched to Adidas. I have to say however that the quality product, service and record sales we have seen since switching to Puma mean that this was the correct commercial decision for us. Remember that this deal covers all training wear and from next season will feature leisure wear as well, all of which were having to be sourced separately for team use and retail in the past.
So, long story short, to produce a commemorative kit that matched the kit the team would wear, we had this option or no option. Regards this kit’s similarity to Headington United and whether this was supposed to be the only option for fans – more on this below. We were extremely keen for the first team to play in a different kit for this match, and we have dispensation from the EFL to do this. Clubs are allowed a maximum of once per season, which is how some clubs play in their new kit on occasion for their last home match.
Our intention was always to auction the match worn shirts, some at the dinner in the evening and some online the week following the match. As you know, everything around this match is to raise money for the Academy. With auctions however, we recognise that fans can be priced out. Hence producing 125 shirts for a fixed price retail. That price of £75 was researched by our Head of Retail, and with such a limited number available and as a collector’s item we felt that was the right price. In the past, the club has offered Wembley embroidered shirts for cup finals etc and offered these at £75. In 2017 the Wembley kit sold out 100 pieces at £75 and was the standard home kit embroidered with the Wembley date and match details.
I know that it has been widely shared that the template kit is available online ranging from £8 to £14. However, our cost price for these kits is higher, based on the quantity of shirts we placed on order and the fact that we’ve had each shirt individually embroidered. £30 from the sales will go directly into the Academy, as will all proceeds from the players’ kits auctioned off.
In terms of the pricing, it is not intended to be a product to ‘rip fans off’. It is a commemorative shirt that our research has shown will at least hold its value given the limited number produced. I myself own one of 2,000 limited edition Arsenal shirts produced to commemorate Highbury in their original Burgundy colour. When these do become available, they are worth more now that I paid for it in 2005-06. It is deliberately not designed to be a mass market product.
As soon as we produce more and lower the cost, it becomes another replica shirt. We felt strongly that releasing more, as an additional third replica, would not be the right approach here. We have had record sales of kit this season, which is fantastic, so to put another standard Puma replica kit out there which would have a short shelf life would result in a lot of commercial risk and I thought attract a lot of entirely justified criticism.
Pricing wise and considering supporters, rest assured I am a firm advocate of not ripping off or pricing out fans. Were we increasing price to core products such as season tickets, tickets, or replica and training wear – products which are designed for all fans, then this would be of big concern to me.
However, this product is not intended to be that.
One final part of the decision process, which we as a club were not going to share publicly as despite our considerable disappointment, we recognise that issues can happen, is that there were due to be an additional two products available to supporters to commemorate our anniversary:
- Milk Cup Final Retro Shirt retailing at £36.00
- Headington United Shirt retailing at £36.00
These were due from a leading supplier of retro shirts, 600 of each were ordered, and the order was placed a considerable time ago. We were let down by the provider at point of delivery, just over a week ago.
We are obviously extremely frustrated at this, and as I say we would not normally share this frustration with supporters, but in the context of the reaction of the kit this week I feel it is important that supporters know that there categorically WAS supposed to be an alternative Headington United shirt.
It has also been suggested that we get these shirts signed and framed. Our cost for framing a shirt is nearly £100 in itself. I felt that pre signing the shirts with the current squad was risky as not everybody who purchases one would want that, and in addition the match worn shirts will all be signed for the auction. However, any supporter that does buy the commemorative shirt I will be more than happy to arrange to get this signed for them by the squad.
Finally, as both an employee and supporter of the club I think that had we done nothing to commemorate the anniversary of the club then this would, I am sure, have been extremely disappointing for supporters. A lot of work has gone on to ensure we can play in this kit, with our kit providers and our sponsors and staff internally. We have also used considerable budget marketing the matchday tickets in the Oxford Mail and on Jack FM to try and celebrate this anniversary.
I feel that had we been able to launch this kit alongside the above two non Puma commemorative kits as intended then supporters would see the product more as it was intended to be.
To see us in the press accused of ripping fans off, when we as a club have what I strongly suspect is the cheapest, if not certainly one of the cheapest, match tickets in the Football League this Saturday to try and allow as many fans as possible to celebrate with us was extremely disappointing.
I fully recognise that the kit isn’t “bespoke”, and on the face of it is expensive. However, I also think it is important that it is seen in the context in which it was intended, which for various reasons it has not been.
As a club, I like to think we would always hold our hands up if we have made a mistake. This may yet prove to be that given the strength of the reaction to it. If so, then we will certainly take it on board and learn from it. I hope that the negative attention will not detract from a day designed to celebrate all that is great about our football club.
Round Table Fireworks
Moving on from the 125th Anniversary, and as I mentioned briefly at the end of my last update, I am delighted that we will be sponsoring and supporting, alongside Jack FM, the Oxford 51st Annual Charity Fireworks Display.
The display, which takes place at South Park on Saturday 3rd November, features a spectacular fireworks display, an enormous bonfire, Jack FM’s Soundstage, Hebborn’s Funfair, a fully licenced bar and a special family tent, enclosure and viewing area available with the Super Family package.
All profits from the event are distributed to local charities, with over £1 million raised since the first display in 1967.
The event attracts over 20,000 people, largely families, and offers us a fantastic opportunity to ensure Oxford United is at the heart of local community events such as this. Over the long term, this is a key audience for us within the county, and as a club we want to make sure we are out there and well known in the Community.
We will have Ollie and Olivia in the Family Tent, our inflatable football for kids to play, and be selling ‘winter warmer’ bags containing an OUFC hat, scarf, and special Family Ticket offer for the Gillingham match later in November.
I know that the First Team are away at Scunthorpe, and that many of you will travel there to support us, but for those that are staying in Oxford, it would be great to see you there – showing your Oxford United colours of course!
See oxfordfireworks.co.uk/tickets for further details.