“Jersey Boys” – What does it take to be a jersey collector in Malaysia?

Football jerseys are extremely pricey these days
Football jerseys are extremely pricey these days

If you log into the official Manchester United online store, you will find that the brand new Falcao ‘9’ replica jersey is going for RM340. If you’re a crazy fan, you will probably buy the home and away kit – so that’s RM680!

If you’re absolutely nuts, you will get all 3 kits. That’s over RM1000! And that excludes shipping and handling fees. And you wonder why many football fans (especially in Asia) resort to purchasing fake jerseys.

I acknowledge that selling or purchasing fake jerseys is a crime – and this article is in no way endorsing that behaviour, but football clubs only have themselves to blame for this.

Let me explain.

When I was 15 (back in 1997), a relative of mine living in the UK bought a jersey for me. It was a Manchester United kit, and it was (only) 34 pounds. Even back then, many Malaysians could not afford an original kit – but because of the popularity of the Premier League, the demand for replica kits hit the roof. And just like with fake movie VCDs and DVDs in Malaysia, there was a huge opportunity for money to be made. And it took off, first – in your weekly pasar malam (night market). Openly. And the best part was these fake replica kits went by grades.

Obviously the grades correspond to the quality level – so if you can afford, you’d go for the Grade AAA. This is the best grade, often referred to as ‘second original’. Most of you would’ve seen it or perhaps even own a few – it is very high quality. The AAA grade jerseys can go for RM40-50 per piece. AA grade is a step lower – so it’s slightly cheaper. And then you have Grade A, which is really bad – people normally buy these for kids. Very cheap. If you pop across the border to Thailand, you can get AAA grade jerseys for RM20!

Nowadays, you can even see fake replica jerseys on sale outside stadiums, before matches. It’s interesting how fearless these traders are – considering that the maximum fine in Malaysia, if one is convicted of supplying and selling counterfeit merchandise is RM10,000 PER jersey!

But that is not what my article is about.

I sympathize with football fans because I think the game is rapidly disconnecting itself from supporters. This is very alarming because the popularity of footballers and clubs are down to the fans. If Real Madrid played in an empty stadium every weekend, they would go bankrupt in a matter of months. The business theory behind football clubs is down to its reach and the size of its fan base – Liverpool have 22.6 million fans on Facebook – if each one of them spent 100 euros per season buying 1 replica kit, that works out to 2.26 billion! Of course, not everyone buys original kits – some get fake ones.

adidas_store_01The thinking behind this is that the priority should be the fans – keep the price of jerseys affordable so that the bigger majority of their supporters all over the world, especially those from developing or third world countries, can afford to purchase them. Of course, it’s unfair to oversimplify the issue because a lot of sports brands are a huge component of this marketing tool, and the quality of jerseys have improved dramatically over the last 2 decades with fabric technology BUT still – you only end up pushing away your fans with the heavy price tag.

Football clubs don’t need to squeeze the fans. They of all people need special help, and a reward if you like – for buying into the brand. They shouldn’t have to pay for the team’s extravagant plans. It’s a domino effect – clubs spend more money on players wages, transfer fees, renovation of stadiums, marketing etc and ‘extort’ more from fans to cover that cost. After Real Madrid signed David Beckham in 2003, they sold approximately 1 million replica jerseys within the space of only 11 months. That works out to almost 80 million Euros! 4 years ago, 1.2 million Cristiano Ronaldo replica jerseys were sold – in Madrid alone. That works out to almost 100 million Euros!

Let me throw you some numbers: According to national statistics, 82.5% of Malaysians below the age of 30 earn less than RM3000 per month. If you do a simple calculation to remove monthly commitments such as transportation, food and bills– most are left with very little and RM340 can go a long way for many. I am not attacking clubs for making money – it’s a business, of course they need to generate profit BUT the question is: where is the line? Do you raise the price of club merchandise and tickets to a point that genuine fans cannot afford to participate? Of course not, but that is exactly what’s happening today. And let’s not talk about match tickets – that’s a discussion for another day.

How much would you spend on an original football jersey?