Rugby jersey sales set for spike thanks to World Cup
Perception is that Irish rugby jerseys would outsell any other sport over this year
Robbie Henshaw models the new Ireland Rugby World Cup jersey. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
There are two distinct fashion trends when it comes to those that sport rugby jerseys. Some like it haute, couture that is, when only the latest garment from the manufacturer’s production line will suffice as fans invest financially as well as emotionally in supporting a team or country.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who champion the retro chic, where the cachet comes with wearing something from antiquity, the older the better, as if it offers unimpeachable bona fides about being a supporter of long standing; a costume that distinguishes them from the nouveau arrive.
What is irrefutable is that Irish people who follow sport have no issue with wearing their club, county or national team colours across a variety of sports and with some cross-pollination. Tune in to golf’s majors and it is commonplace to see a spectator or seven wearing a GAA county jersey. Actually it would be disappointing not to be greeted by that vista.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team travel to Japan early next month for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and the long standing joke about 40 shades of green to describe the colour of Irish jerseys down through the years, across a variety of manufacturers will be very much in evidence in the stands.
Ireland’s current kit suppliers are Canterbury and they have designed a special jersey to be worn at the Rugby World Cup, a common practice down through the years. Tournament rules stipulate that the match jersey cannot feature a sponsor’s logo – Vodafone in Ireland’s case – so every four years there is an opportunity to sell niche home or alternate strips.
Commercial sensitivity means that Canterbury won’t reveal any figures in terms of numbers sold or projections but the manufacturer, by some distance the largest supplier of team gear in the tournament with seven countries in Ireland, England, Japan, USA, Canada, Georgia and Russia wearing their kit, were willing to provide some background information.
Sean Kavanagh, global director of sports marketing and sponsorship at Pentland Brands Ltd, who own Canterbury and other sporting brands including Mitre, Ellesse, Lacoste and Speedos amongst others, explained that the Irish RWC jersey has been well received in terms of sales.
“We do see a significant spike during a Rugby World Cup year and as we know the Irish fans love to support their team and travel in numbers, as we saw in 2015. The initial feedback in terms of sell through has been extremely positive, both the home replica and alternate replica jerseys are performing really well, in-line or above expectations.
“The exposure that a Rugby World Cup gets is far greater than a normal rugby year. We obviously don’t have all the numbers from different brands but the perception would be that the Ireland rugby jersey would be the best selling replica in the Irish market this year across all codes. It would outsell any English Premiership (soccer) teams or GAA replicas. The spike is significant.”
Irish people’s willingness to purchase jerseys ensures that it is quite a lucrative market when weighed against population size. Kavanagh explained: “The Irish marketplace is very competitive (in global terms). In terms of percentage of population and their purchases Ireland would sit very highly across all countries and not just the seven that we (Canterbury) have.
“Another example and one of our countries that is performing extremely well is Japan. As we saw in 2015 on the back of a bit of success or relatively success, their supporters are really similar to the Irish in that they get behind their team. We would be expecting extremely good numbers to come out of the Japanese market.”
The Ireland RWC jersey took just over two years from concept to manufacturer during which time Canterbury consulted with the IRFU; the union had to sign off on the design. As one of the tournament’s main sponsors, Canterbury will supply the gear for match officials, World Rugby Staff and volunteers.
As a dedicated rugby brand Kavanagh admitted that it was important to have visibility at a Rugby World Cup and the ancillary impact it has in terms of recognition down to grass roots level. He confirmed that Canterbury recommends a price point for the jersey but it is down to individual retailers as to what they charge.
“We recommend a retail price but it is up to the retailers what they decide to go at and depending on the different markets, currency rates and inflation rates, all that kind of thing, it can vary slightly.”
Intersport Elverys, one of the IRFU’s official sponsors, and Lifestyle Sports would be the primary sports retail outlets in Ireland in terms of bulk sales. The Ireland 2019 RWC Pro Home jersey costs €90 for adults and €66 for children. For those who want an exact replica of what the team wears, the Test home jersey costs an eye-watering €120.
But is there a market for a jersey that’s pricey and unforgiving in its body hugging form? Kavanagh explained: “We feel that it is very important that the supporters have access to the exact same jersey as the players are wearing.
“However the reality is that the sales numbers on that Test jersey are very limited and only a handful of people could probably wear them. They are bought and they are worn but a lot of the time they are bought for memorabilia sake to be used as a souvenir as well.
“It is available, consumers do buy it, consumers do wear it and we’re delighted that they do that but that the reality is that it is a very small percentage of overall sales and the replica jersey, which would be looser fitting, has much more mass appeal and our numbers would be focused there as well.”
New Zealand offer a Test option of the iconic All Black jersey and it is the most expensive at €130 while Wales (€120) and Scotland (€115) also offer a players’ version. The price tags for the majority of the 2019 RWC replica jerseys range from €85-€90 with Fiji’s the best value at €72.
Anne-Marie Hanly, senior marketing manager at Intersport Elverys, offered a retailer’s perspective and while unwilling to divulge information deemed to be commercially sensitive, she did explain that “unit sales in a World Cup year are double a standard year.”
Elverys’ expect to reach the same volume of sales as they did in 2015 based on current projections and that the New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Japan and France jerseys have also been selling well.
Shireen McDonagh, head of brand marketing and sponsorship at Lifestyle Sports, also pointed out that Ireland jersey sales double in a Rugby World Cup year. She said: “There is more choice for rugby fans during a World Cup year.
“Manufacturers produce a wider range of variants including long sleeved, badged and unbadged and we pride ourselves on providing customers with the widest range of international home and away jerseys.
“The Ireland jersey is far and away the bestselling international jersey. After Ireland, the All Blacks is a long time favourite whose popularity transcends fans loyalty to their home nation. England is our third best selling jersey followed by France.
“Other teams such as South Africa and the Wallabies have strong following, again with people buying into a wider range of options including training, supporter wear and boots and rather than just the jersey itself.
“Major tournaments always throw up an underdog success story and we see the market react as they look to buy a piece of history or moment in time. In 2015 when Japan beat South Africa we sold out of the Japan jersey within 48 hours to become the third biggest selling jersey of the tournament.”
From an Irish perspective a repeat next month would be unwelcome. There is no doubt that outside of national allegiance customers buy with their eye and it’s easy to understand the appeal of the French (back to its classic best), Argentine, Japan and Fiji jerseys based on a colour palate.
Irrespective of the breakdown of the old or the new jerseys, Ireland rugby supporters will be happy to wear their colours in Japan.
Rugby World Cup kit manufacturers
Canterbury: Ireland, England, Japan, USA, Canada, Georgia, Russia.
Asics: Australia, South Africa.
Macron: Italy, Scotland.
Adidas: New Zealand.
Under Armour: Wales.
Le Coq Sportif: France.