At first glance, Manchester United’s £75m-a-year kit deal with Adidas looked like a vast overpayment on the behalf of the German sportswear manufacturer.
Back in 2014 when United’s commercial guru Ed Woodward secured the deal, United had just endured their worst season since the 1980s, the club had failed to attract some high profile transfer targets and yet Adidas had agreed to a deal worth £45m more than the Premier League’s next highest manufacturing deal — the £30m a year Chelsea and Arsenal then received from Adidas and Puma respectively.
Yet new a new Premier League shirt bestsellers list has revealed just why the company paid so much to put its three stripes next to the Manchester United badge.
Sports Direct have revealed the 20 most popular player name shirts with customers to their website — and over a third are names of Jose Mourinho’s current squad.
Summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic top the list, while goalkeeper David de Gea and teenage striker Marcus Rashford also feature in the top 10.
Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan also feature, giving United a total of seven players in the top 20.
Contrary to received wisdom, that doesn’t mean United will be directly recouping the £160m shelled out on transfers this summer.
Instead, it’s Adidas who will be making back the £75m paid out to United. The vast majority of money raised from kit sales will go to the suppliers who have paid huge fees to licence a Premier League brand.
After signing the deal, Adidas predicted that by the end of the 10 year partnership the company would generate £1.5bn in sales from Manchester United merchandise.
Early signs are good — the firm enjoyed record football sales of €2.2bn (£1.7bn) last year.
And Sports Direct’s latest shirt sales list provides even more encouraging reading for Adidas. Pogba and Ibrahimovic’s arrival proves that even out of the Champions League, United can still attract the kind of big names that can drive merchandise sales.
Pogba’s popularity in particular will be toasted among company execs. The young midfielder is an Adidas-sponsored athlete on a deal worth a reported £3m a year.
Could Arsenal do better?
As Premier League team brands continue to expand around the world — according to the league’s own estimates roughly 800m people support a team from England’s top division — thanks to popularity booms in North America and China, clubs can leverage more and more from commercial partnerships.
Indeed, Chelsea, who have just two players featured in Sports Direct’s list, have this week agreed a new kit deal with Nike worth £60m a year, double the £30m they currently receive from Adidas which itself was trumpeted as the biggest deal to date only three years ago.
Top clubs’ commercial revenues are increasingly outstripping matchday revenues. United made £106.6m from gate receipts last year compared to huge commercial income of £268.3m.
After the Red Devils, the next best represented club on Sports Direct’s bestseller list is Arsenal with four players.
Yet the value of Arsenal’s current kit deal with Puma is dwarfed by rivals Chelsea and United.
Indeed, despite the Emirates being named the most profitable stadium in Europe, Arsenal’s commercial revenue stood at £106.9m last season — well behind United.
Sport Direct's 20 best selling shirts online:
|1||Paul Pogba||Manchester United|
|2||Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Manchester United|
|6||David de Gea||Manchester United|
|8||Dimitri Payet||West Ham|
|10||Marcus Rashford||Manchester United|
|11||Anthony Martial||Manchester United|
|12||Sergio Aguero||Manchester City|
|13||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United|
|16||Kevin de Bruyne||Manchester City|
|19||Henrikh Mkhitaryan||Manchester United|