EVERY SEASON, clubs roll-out new shirts that bastardise their heritage, infuriate certain fans and invite criticism and laughter at their expense. While fans complain about the designs, and some are really quite hideous, it doesn’t stop them queuing to buy them, either to wear them on matchdays or stick them in a drawer with all their previous shirts.
With each year that passes, the artwork becomes more bizarre and more over-engineered. No longer can you honestly say your team plays in red or blue or white – it’s in there somewhere, but you might find it among swirling, cod-paisley designs, TV interference from the 1970s or in the form of a shirt that looks as though it has been in the washing machine with a strong colour that makes your own shirt, white with a hint of pink, yellow or lilac. Or it may be the shirt has been designed by a gang of small children let loose on a tin of Crayola. There seems to be no limits to the amount of needless and expensive graphic design that goes into the new season’s home, away or third strip.
We all know why this happens. It’s not for the aesthetic value of the shirt in question, because most are pretty awful. It’s aimed at making as much money as possible. Why not? You might ask. Actually, from a commercial point of view, shirt sales are an important element in any club’s commercial offering. The fans lap it up, but somewhere down the line, the club’s intellectual property is being tampered with.
There are a number of assets that form the club identity: the badge (logo), the playing strip and the stadium are the most prominent. Today, all corporates have brand identity teams that look after the logo and all its attributes. A club should do likewise, indeed many certainly do, but the playing strip seems to change year-in, year-out. Inter Milan is a good case of how black and blue stripes can be distorted to produce confusing brand identity. Stripes are stripes, not zig-zags.
A club’s shirt should be instantly identifiable as belonging to that club. So why not allow it to be a constant, an official strip that only alters to allow for modernisation and technical improvement? This is a strip that can stand-up as the club’s official uniform, always present, always visible and never changing. If you want to make it something that can be sold annually, then simply have the season printed on the shoulders.
Alternatively, if a club is hell bent on producing new merchandise that lures more cash out of the pockets of fans, then a strip for the season can be introduced that adheres to the guidelines of the branding department. If blue is the colour, then why introduce reds, greens and yellows that bear no relation to the club’s heritage? There’s plenty you can do with a sympathetic palette, is it really necessary to wander into the world of manufactured colours with names like rosebloom pink, light mint, lapis blue and stealth? Of course, this ill-defined set of products may be a way to deter piracy, but where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.
When was the last time you watched a game where two teams played in their traditional colours? It’s quite rare that a club wears its first choice for an away game, but in today’s game, it’s hard to keep up with away kit colouring. By all means commercialise your offering, but keep it simple and don’t exploit the audience.