Getting Shirty Over Superstar Non-Starter

BECKHAM for Boro? Don’t be daft. Yes, the club is crying out for a right sided player. Yes, flagging morale and crowds would get a Juninho-style boost from signing a household name. But come on, the notion is ridiculous.
Not for a second has the move actually even been mooted. Don’t start swearing down dead that the lad from the Gazette said it is gospel. Far from it, the highly-improbable move was mentioned by an acquaintence who always regurgitates without qualification snippets from the tabloids and whispers he has heard from sources close to the pub.
But even if Boro could afford to give Beckham £100,000 a week, the biggest house in Wynyard and Posh a Primark gold card, the idea is a non-starter. Boro are not geared up to play Beckham in his most effective position: shirt salesman.


As a cynic that was my first thought. How could Boro possibly hope to cash in on such a mouthwatering commercial and branding opportunity? There is little point in signing an international superstar with an awesome PR machine if you couldn’t back it with the marketing muscle and shirt selling savvy needed to claw back his wages through merchandising.
Manchester United raked in fortunes stamping his image on tat that sold in shedloads globally, so much so that some key shareholders questioned the wisdom of selling him no matter what the judgement of Sir Alex about his future contribution to the team or the distractions of the celeb circus that surrounded him and his pop star wife.
At Real Madrid too he has been a major promotional tool, the ubiquitous 23 shirt a worldwide pre-teen fashion accessory and a major dynamic for Adidas in their bid for world domination of what is a very lucrative market.
But how could Boro possibly maximise that marketing open goal presented by such a signing when you can’t buy a replica shirt in Redcar, Stockton or Billingham, let alone the Beckmania heartlands of Chester, Torquay, Woking and Manila?
Not that I want to take a cheap shot at Errea or the restrictions that come with the exclusivity built into that deal. It returns a far higher proportion of profit per shirt to the club than a licencing deal with one of the big players would and no doubt in over a decade as the club’s supplier it has provided some exciting and crucial revenue streams for Boro.
But the structure has limited horizons and leaves Boro geographically as well as commercially painted into a corner. The two shops are useful outlets – if you live in Middlesbrough – but it screams out the paucity of ambition and parochial outlook of the club that you can’t buy a Boro shirt at sporting superstores anywhere else in the country.
Yes, the figures show 95% of Boro’s season ticket holders live within 15 miles of the ground – but even the majority of those are not well served. Mams of football crazy kids who live in Marske or Sedgefield or Stokesley may not have the means or motivation to trek down to MFC Retail to get little Harrison his Boro shirt. How many of those take the easy route and buy an England, Barcelona or Chelsea shirt instead? That’s another lost soul.
Even within the remits of the Errea exclusive deal it should be possible to expand the operation with well placed satellite stores in the town centres of first Redcar, Stockton and Billingham and then beyond. And there must be scope for franchises within other shops. There was a time when Dickens superstores sold Boro shirts, and yes, they were shirt sponsors at the time but it shows that it is possible to think outside the box. Why not a regional deal with Asda or Tesco?
Ideally Boro should be looking to expand beyond the TS postcodes anyway. It is no good retreating into the laager and saying there is no market outside the geo-political unit defined by the parmo. Boro have a monopoly of Premiership football in Yorkshire and Durham and should be ruthlessly exploiting it. In promotional terms the shirt is a crusading branding tool for that and it is amazing that such expansion is not a top priority.
The club should be putting down the basis of an infrastructure so that they can exploit opportunities such as a major signing that caused a sudden upsurge in demand. It would be a major embarrassment if Boro were to sign a Beckham or a Ronaldo and couldn’t capitalise. Or worse that the structure made the club think such a signing was not viable.
Today Thirsk, tomorrow the world!

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13 thoughts on “Getting Shirty Over Superstar Non-Starter

  1. All valid points Mr Vickers, however as we all know Boro could not organise the proverbial knees up in a brewery.
    We only have to look at the ticket fiasco’s of big games in the none to distant past to realise that the Marketing (is there one?) dept at MFC is useless.

  2. As you rightly say the exclusivity deal is a two edged sword.
    A national retailer would have our eyes out in a profit squeezing deal. Living away from the area and not knowing the local retailers, the thought that leaps to my mind is a deal with regional outlets. That would have multiple benefits in that it would reinforce the brand in its main catchment area with a reasonable return to the club.
    It would also benefit local businesses, the local outlets struggling against the JJB’s etc, with spin off sales. We all remember Jack Hatfields store just off Linthorpe Road, it would be good to benefit local business.

  3. Never Happy, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Boro’s big weakness is the way the business is run in general, ticket sales for big games being an excellent example.
    The fact that shirts are only available in Middlesbrough itself is a major weakness. I fully understand the reluctance to sell them in JJB etc. but there must be a straight forward way of making them readily avaiable throughout Teesside.
    AV’s idea of marketing to a wider ‘audience’ is a great idea there must be potential in the Yorkshire area particularly.
    Boro are never going to be a global or even a national brand but surely a regional brand could be created.
    Clearly a club capable of reaching a UEFA cup final is also capable of widening its supporter base beyond Teesside.

  4. I’d rather keep Middlebrough fc a local club and not sell its soul to the money men…hang on..it may have already happened..when juninho was the our man utd equivalent of beckham

  5. Hi all. I agree with the comments above about shirt availability, but surely that’s what MFC Direct is supposed to address? Opening new stores may be difficult to justify financially – although I would have thought Redcar would make sense – but to make its direct mail service a success the club needs to reach out and market it.
    How about targeted door drops, newspaper inserts etc? Seems to me that MFC only reaches out via the season ticket base, and anyone who buys tickets via phone. Its horizons are too limited.
    And I agree with AV’s comments about reaching out beyond the TS postcodes. Boro are extremely lucky to have a (potentially) huge catchment area from Bishop Auckland to Thirsk and Scarborough. Lets approach local sports shops as suggested. Makes a huge amount of sense to me.

  6. We live in West Sussex and have not had a problem buying shirts, caps, mugs, car stickers, quilt covers or cushions either via the website or on occasional trips home. Yes, I’d love to see somewhere like JJB stock Boro shirts nationally but let’s be realistic how many would they sell in West Sussex, or Kent,or………
    Let’s maximize the profit for MFC not JJB.
    Also, I’ve just received a catalogue from MFC Retail that I hadn’t specifically requested. They must have my details from ticket and retail sales etc. It shows they are thinking with more of a Marketing approach. It’s hard to criticize what they offer and how they sell it.

  7. The Primark card says it all. Have you visited Wynyard, Redcar or Billingham lately? Stay where you are Becks…. Sorry, couldnt resist.
    Seriously, I’ve always felt the club missed a golden opportunity over the last few years…Juninho,Europe,cup finals, not to widen its appeal. Oh now I remember; we’re just a small town in Europe arnt we?

  8. This is something that has always annoyed me. I teach in West Sussex these days, and I always raise interest in the Boro with the children I teach and coach.
    When we got to the UEFA final, a number of the children were even keen to get Boro shirts, but they were disappointed that you couldn’t just nip into soccer world or wherever and get one.
    I know if they had walked past one with their parents they would have pestered them and maybe a few would end up with a shirt. This was the same with the Cup Final too.
    Each one is a potential Boro fan lost. I don’t follow the parochial notion that has been cited to me when I have said this in the past, where people say they don’t want people all around the country supporting Boro! WHY NOT?
    I would love to see kids playing in Boro shirts in Portsmouth, Peterborough and Peru. I love it when, in some far flung exotic location (like Bognor Regis) I see a Boro shirt.
    I thought we HAD overcome someday, and we were moving forward. Will someone tell the club that?
    **AV writes: You lads from the massed ranks of the West Sussex Parmo Army need to get your story story straight.

  9. AV, in the final sentence of your article, did you mean Thirsk or Thirk (sp)?
    Also don’t understand your reply to Jonathan from West Sussex. He makes an excellent point, me thinks.
    **AV writes:
    Good spot. It’s Thirsk. Yes, Jonathon makes a good point, but it is at odds with the one Richard – also from West Sussex – is making.

  10. I/m currently living in the middle of Thailand. I live in a village of rice farmers, surrounded by paddy-fields and jungle. Nearest town is 45 minutes away.
    I have clocked 5 Boro shirts to date. 3 in the local town, 1 at the local market and 1 at a show at the local temple. All worn by Thai’s.
    2 were the black heritage hampers shirts and 3 were the red dickons shirts.

  11. The West Sussex bloggers make valid points.
    One explains how easy it is to buy online, the other explains how difficult it is to buy in a conventional manner.
    Prehaps the potential young fans parents struggle with the concept of buying online and take the easy option of buying over the counter, so the Boro miss out on a shirt sale.
    All this talk of buying and missing out reminds me of Keith Lamb and his transfer dealings.
    There isn’t a link is there?

  12. Perhaps it was my lad that Jonathon saw in Bognor Regis? We make occasional forays to such exotic parts.
    Mind you the beach is definitely poor compared to Redcar and the fish chips are expensive.
    I say again – if you live miles away the internet is fine. I don’t want JJB taking profit from Boro. Being realistic I raise loads of interest in Boro too but so few are ever likely to be real fans. The profit loss to MFC of selling shirts thru JJB is not balanced by the gain of a few extra fans imo.

  13. Hi.. Never Happy has got the point we are both trying to make, which you semmed to miss AV.. we are not at odds, we are both talking about different aspects of the same thing..
    I am saying we get no casual sales over the counter that could one day turn into real fans. Richard says that few of these converts we preach to are likely to be real fans… well I have seen enough of them pick up shirts and follow clubs forever after.. your frist club is nearly always your only club. I even have a Real Madrid fan at the school I work at because he got their shirt, and he now avidly follows them.
    Sadly, there is a dark side to this: I have seen this happen with Newcastle shirts, and know of a number of kids who took to the dark side because they were bought a striped shirt….
    Those of us who are keen WILL search stuff out on the net, but we ought to be pulling in those showing an early interest if we are to grow as a club.
    It may only be half a dozen from my whole town who do it, but repeat that across 200 different towns across the country? enough to create an increase, and the more shirts get seen, the better for the club, surely?

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