Did you manage to sleep last night?
The news that 12 ‘top’ European clubs have agreed to form a new Super League has turned the football world upside down. We knew it was coming, but despite all the rumours and threats, the reality of what is unfolding today is hard to stomach.
A lot of people much more knowledgeable than I on the subject are already penning more helpful pieces, but today I thought it’d be interesting to speculate on what the shirts of the new Super League could look like, if nothing else because I’m struggling to process anything else at the moment.
A few words of the model
Before we talk specifically about shirts, a word on the proposed model of the Super League.
A lot of people have rightly made a comparison between the new league and what we see in leagues like MLS, the NFL or the NBA. The link is a good one; the franchise model we see in the aforementioned competitions eliminates the threat of relegation for owners, whilst providing fans with the ‘assurance’ that their team will always have an opportunity to compete for the biggest trophies.
Once a team is part of the league they are locked in, and there is relative solidarity (a word used frequently in all Super League propaganda) between teams with things like more equal revenue share, salary caps and even a draft system for players to encourage some degree of parity.
I don’t want to dwell on the pros and cons of various league structures in this piece, but it’s worth having something like the NFL in the back of your mind when thinking about the Super League.
For the purposes of this piece, I’ll be talking about Super League shirts on the basis that teams will wear dedicated shirts for the competition, rather than the same designs worn in league competition. In reality the situation is quite messy, and if the league goes ahead it’ll likely be a while before we see Super League specific shirts (given the current technical partnerships that are ongoing, the logistics of such a change etc.). Still, if things really are going ahead as planned, I’d be amazed if the Super League teams actually stayed in their respective domestic competitions at all…
But anyway, let’s talk about Super League shirts.
1. A league-wide manufacturer
In time, it’s highly likely that all founding teams in the Super League will have kits made by the same manufacturer.
The one consistent theme across competitions like the NFL is that one manufacturer produces the kits, and there are many reasons why. From a financial perspective (where else could we start?), a league wide deal which is equally shared would be an attractive one for owners who are otherwise effectively competing for the biggest contracts.
Imagine a situation where Spurs were consistently finishing bottom of the Super League (sorry to take a cheap shot at you like everyone else, Spurs fans…). Nike might be tempted to move on, and funnel their money back into someone like Manchester City who could theoretically be back-to-back winners of the new Super League.
With a league wide contract, Daniel Levy doesn’t have to worry about that. He gets the same treatment, as a ‘reward’ for being a founding club, and no matter what happens he can rest easy that he’s ticked the shirt revenue box.
By bringing all the kits under one roof, there would also be more control over things like the marketing of the kits. With enough forward planning, the Super League could coordinate new ranges of kits at several touchpoints during the season, and as many people have rightly called out we can expect a lot of new kits.
As I mentioned before, the issues of current kit deals muddy the waters of any potential one manufacturer rule, but I would be very surprised if we don’t see at least some kind of homogeneity in the near future.
2. New designs every week
The trend of releasing more shirts a season has rapidly accelerated even just this year, to the point where it’s now uncommon for a team to have only worn three different designs in 2020/21. Perhaps hypocritically, I’m a believer that more shirts doesn’t necessarily equal bad, and I would look to teams like Dortmund who have flatly rejected the Super League, whilst at the same time making the most of the kit bubble financially, but perhaps that’s a topic for a future article.
If kits make teams more money, we’ll see more kits. Why not have a new kit every week, seriously. Teams could use the opportunity to rotate on something like a 4 week schedule. One week could be something completely new, targeted specifically at the young fans who care more about how good a shirt will look on FIFA than they do anything else. Week 2 could see something ‘traditional’ to appeal to ‘legacy fans’ (the mind boggles) playing on retro ideas which have become incredibly popular in the football shirt scene.
Let’s chuck in a blackout week, again capitalising on one of the biggest trends we’ve seen in football shirts. Seasonal weeks could be introduced, and though it’s egregious to suggest, we could see ‘charity weeks’ where each tea… scratch that.
The point is, we will see a lot of kits to the point where even the most progressive of observers will be longing for the heady days of just 4 kits a season.
3. More sponsors than you can shake a stick at
What about sponsors?
There are two directions the Super League could go down in regards to sponsors. We could see the floodgates open, as clubs maximise every inch on their shirt to plaster a brand logo, F1 car style. Governing bodies and league officials usually keep a tight rein on sponsor size and placement, but without the restrictions teams would be at liberty to go to town with corporate logos. With potentially dozens of kits a season, we could see different sponsors every week, or models where different players wear different sponsors as companies look to cash in on the star power of specific players.
By contrast, things could go the other way. Because of the vast sums of money that’s already made available upfront, and the potential revenue of a league-wide kit deal that’s split evenly across founding members, teams might actually be in a position to forgo shirt sponsorship entirely. It sounds ridiculous, but NFL teams have so far avoided adding sponsors despite the potentially lucrative revenue stream it would provide.
Having said that, other previously sponsorless leagues like the NBA and the NHL have nudged the door ever so slightly open in recent years (with small patch sponsors and helmet sponsors, respectively), and it would be strange to see Super League clubs pass on the opportunity to make a cool extra 10M with a sleeve patch deal.
4. A damaging pricing structure
What sort of price should we expect to pay for a Super League shirt? In what seems like quite a timely piece in hindsight, I’d expect to see something like what we wrote about a few weeks ago.
MLS shirts are experiencing something of a crisis at the moment. Replica MLS shirts, priced in the same ballpark as other replicas, are poor imitations of the shirts the players wear. Key design details are often completely missing, applications vary wildly, and even things like stars above crests disappear. To get something that actually looks like the shirt the players wear, you’re forced to fork out for a player issue shirt.
Player issue shirts are nothing new, but what is concerning is the MLS model which is skewed so deliberately in the favour of the more expensive model. Design features are left out on replicas to make the player issue more appealing, and though there have been hints of similar moves this side of the Atlantic, we’ve thankfully not reached that point just yet with most shirts from the European leagues.
The introduction of the Super League seems like the perfect time to make some changes though, right?
5. …the freedom we crave?
I want to finish this piece with a somewhat bizarre statement. Super League shirts might actually feature the sort of design freedom we crave as kit collectors.
Before I go any further, I’d like to reiterate (if it wasn’t already painfully obvious) that I’m fully against the idea of a breakaway league entirely devoid of any care for the game we love. But, if I try and be as objective as possible, from a kit perspective a new league could mean new opportunities.
FIFA and UEFA are often cited as the reason manufacturers have to temper the aesthetics of a kit. Hate plain backs? The Super League could feasibly allow stripes and patterns of all sorts, at least if it made them more money when it came to kit sales.
Disappointed that adidas are holding back with their three stripes branding, unlike the glory days of the 90s? Say hello to the new Super League kits during retro week (as we discussed in point 2), which feature the sort of bold geometric goodness that we long for in 2021.
It’s painful to think about, but the sad reality is we could actually see some really good shirts from an eventual Super League. Will that make up for the mess? Of course not. But I’m asking for your help in advance when Inter Milan release an absolutely stunning shirt in 2022, and I’m tempted to climb down from my moral high horse.
I hope more than anything else that what I’ve written doesn’t come true. I hope this is just a bad dream. And, though it’s perhaps naive of me, I believe you can still enjoy the current shirt industry we have today, despite its fault, and at the same time passionately speak out against the Super League or any similar model.
Deep breaths, everyone.