Senior Ipswich Town players have already selected the kits for 2016/17
This summer we are going behind the scenes at Ipswich Town. STUART WATSON caught up with director of retail operations Lee Hyde in part two of the series.
Football kits always divide opinion among supporters.
Are they in line with the tradition of the club, are they too expensive, should they be changed every year?
Ipswich Town retail manager Lee Hyde, 34, is the man at the forefront of the decisions at Portman Road.
And he takes great pride in finding the balancing act between providing fans with choice, quality and value, while also raising important revenue for the club.
“It’s a strange one for fans because they don’t want to hear that we’re trying to make as much money out of them as possible, but with clubs dealing with FFP (Financial Fair Play) nowadays, the more revenue and the more profit that my small department can raise may mean that the manager can afford to pay the salary of a good first team player for a year. It does make that much difference,” he explains.
“In your own small way you’re helping things on the pitch. That’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day.”
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Retail revenue has grown by 51% since the switch to global sports manufacturing giants adidas.
“This year has been a record in terms of the four years I’ve been here,” explains Hyde, who started out working in high street retailing with Sports Direct before spending three years at Colchester United and a brief stint at Leyton Orient.
“When I first started we were probably selling about 8,500 shirts a year, we’ve got that up to 12,500-13,000 now and we’re hoping to get up to 15,000-16,000.
“The silver bullet of the Premier League would probably double that overnight.
“Turnover has broken through a million pounds for the first time in five years and a sizeable chunk of that does go into Mick McCarthy’s budget.”
Town were one of the last remaining 92 Premier League and Football League clubs to give in to manufacturer’s demands and ditch a two-year kit rotation back in 2011, but Hyde says the club – fully aware of children’s pester power – will firmly resist a growing trend to raise prices.
Already the new kit for 2015/16 – the home kit featuring a collar and the away kit Barcelona-esque – are proving popular and decisions have already been made on the 2016/17 strips.
“It surprises people how far ahead we work,” said Hyde. “I’ve worked with people like Puma and Mitre and I thought they worked quite far in advance – they were 12 months. With adidas it’s about 18 months.
“That means that the 16/17 kits are put to bed already.
“Fans always say ‘can we have a vote on kits?’ But working so far in advance makes that very difficult. I don’t really know how these clubs that do fan votes on kits six months before launch turn it around to be honest, there might be a bit of smoke and mirrors in that situation I would say.
“As much as an exclusive as I can give you today on 16/17, the home kit decision has been made by certain senior players. It’s the first time the manager has knowingly gone to his senior players for that final decision when there were a couple options on the table.
“There is something within that kit that they specifically requested so it will be interesting to see what the fan reaction is to that.
“The manager and players loved it when we switched to adidas. You have to think ‘how is a player going to feel when they’re pulling that on at half past two in the afternoon?’ If he does feel even one per cent better, and his chest is puffed out in the tunnel, that has to be a good thing.”
So how much of a say do managers and players generally have on kit decisions?
“Each manager is different,” says Hyde. “Paul Jewell was quite relaxed about kits, whereas Mick has what he likes and we understand that. He doesn’t want anything too crazy in terms of design. He likes clean, clear cut kits. He doesn’t want anything that is too outlandish or anything that is going to merge with the crowd.
“The great thing is that all the managers I have worked with understand the commercial relevance and take guidance on what is likely to sell and what won’t.
“As much as they don’t micro manage the situation they respect the fact that we ask their opinion on colours and styles before we make the order.
“We’re not going to play in yellow or green, for obvious reasons, we’re not going to be as ballsy as going pink, we’ve used white, black and red quite a lot over the last few years, so that’s why we decided to go for this latest away kit.
“When it was first put on the table at a meeting a few eyebrows were raised, but it seems to have gone down well.
“You hope that you’re going to get 99% positive feedback, but you’re never going to please everybody.”
With social media used heavily to assess what is in demand from fans, Hyde has introduced a new cycling kit range – designed to professional standard – increased the range of golf products and is currently working on branded running gear.
The season review DVD has been reintroduced, while companies have contacted the club about various products – ranging from board games to technology accessories.
Pressure is also being put on adidas from a handful of clubs with a history with the manufacturer – including the likes of Nottingham Forest and Aberdeen – to be able to release retro kits from halcyon days, something that would gives supporters the option to buy a shirt that they wouldn’t feel the need to change every year.
“We’re always looking at new products,” said Hyde. “We had the Jimmy Bullard wigs a few years ago and of course printed names on shirts remains popular. “In David McGoldrick’s first season we ran out of the letters M, G, L and D at various stages. Funnily enough Balint Bajner, when he first joined, was very popular. We sold a few ‘Bajner’ shirts that summer.
“Then there was the time that Tyrone (Mings) changed shirt number and, fair play, he put his hand in his pocket to buy the fans new ones.
“The players always want shirts for kids, there’s often a last minute dash when the owner wants goody bags for guests on match day – it’s never quiet and I like it that way!”