E-commerce and football clubs: a win-win situation?

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Previously, the football club business model was based on sponsorship, TV rights and ticket sales. This model has now evolved with more focus on the sale of products and services (e-commerce, streaming). Like this, clubs diversify their revenue streams and reduce dependence on advertising. Merchandise can be sold in club shops as well as via online marketplaces, to reach a wider audience through multiple channels.

Why are football clubs turning to e-commerce?

In the world of sport, and particularly in football, the sale of merchandise plays an increasingly important, if not essential role in a club’s finances, helping them meet their budgets. Indeed, for big clubs faced with the soaring costs of signing top players and club transfers, the classic model of sports sponsorship, media rights and ticket sales does not cover costs and requires revenue diversification. 

To this end, strengthening merchandise sales (online or offline) is an obvious solution and an aid that clubs cannot afford to turn down. On a global scale, the sporting goods market represents no less than 500 billion dollars. And given its explosive growth of between 5% and 10% per year, it should soon reach the $1,000 billion mark. So, successfully managing even a small part of this vast industry has become a top priority for football clubs.

While sporting events and brick-and-mortar sales have been hit hard by the pandemic, online retail is doing better than ever. E-commerce in Europe is one of the few sectors that has benefited from lockdowns and social distancing. Sports goods retail has an impressive presence in the UK apparel market, and is forecast to reach £10.6bn in 2022, up from £9.0bn in 2017, as continued demand for athleisure ranges supports volume growth.

Being less dependent on revenues from TV broadcasting also protects clubs from financial loss due to failure on the pitch or being knocked out of major tournaments in a given season.

What does merchandise mean for the top clubs?

For the biggest clubs, which are internationally-recognised brands with a fan base in the millions, merchandise is a real asset. There’s no need to market the merchandise, but simply to meet existing demand! In Europe, the majority of football fans sell merchandise bearing their club’s badge or favourite player’s name and number.

Football shirts are the most popular items, along with other items of clothing and footwear, forming the bulk of all sales. But merchandising services don’t stop there, and clubs are always on the lookout for more creative opportunities. New products are continually brought in: collectables, games and toys, household and electrical goods, car accessories, souvenirs… the list goes on!

These sales account for huge amounts of money for the bigger clubs. In 2019, around half the revenues for FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich came from merchandise, even overtaking TV rights! In 2018, the German club alone sold 2.5 million football shirts. And when it comes to the players, it is obviously the superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi that drive sales, reaching record levels during their transfers.

And even though the French clubs are slightly lagging behind compared to the big English, German, Italian and Spanish clubs, Paris Saint-Germain is tantalisingly close to reaching the million mark in football shirt sales per year. That makes for a turnover of several tens of millions of Euros in this segment alone, not counting other merchandise. More than enough to pay several players’ salaries, even though they are amongst the highest-paid in the world!

Online sales: websites, social networks, marketplaces

Because of their popularity and the celebrity status of their players, premier league clubs focus on selling sporting goods and other merchandise. But for the second division clubs, which don’t have the same prestige, it’s not so easy to carve out a place in this market. This is especially due to the fact that they are not always able to invest in alluring websites or the best technological solutions to increase their visitor rate, unlike the big clubs, which are pushed straight to the top of search result pages.

But, there is another way that lesser-known clubs can boost product visibility: marketplaces. This could be a general marketplace, like Amazon or eBay, the two e-commerce leaders in the UK. But there are also specialist websites in the sporting goods segment, such as Decathlon and Go Sport, or websites that are 100% focused on football, like UKSoccershop, YourFootballShirt, FutbolMarkt and UKSoccerShop.

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According to each club’s preferences, marketplaces can coordinate online transactions through their e-commerce channel. Clubs can also ship and manage orders themselves, or otherwise outsource the logistics to the platforms of their choice. A company such as Lengow can help you list your products on marketplaces as well as optimise sales on these third-party websites.

On these sites, big football clubs get preferential treatment by ranking at the top of search results. However, other clubs can boost visibility and climb higher in search rankings by using marketplace advertising services, like Amazon Product Ads.

Don’t forget social networks and mobile apps, either. They are an important growth driver for football brands, helping them increase their web exposure and sales through multiple channels. Sports stakeholders can achieve online success with the e-commerce solution provider Lengow, by optimising their product data and turning to social commerce on networks.

Demande de démo EN

Naomi Botting

Field Marketing Specialist

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