In professional football, shirt sales are important to clubs, not only because it provides a valuable source of income but also for its impact on aspects such as player image rights, brand equity and other marketing benefits. Considered a badge of identity, all professional clubs participating in the world’s top football leagues have a jersey sponsor.
It took Vietnam’s top flight V. League 1 two decades to reach this level, 2020 being the first season each league club had a jersey sponsor. Sanna Khanh Hoa, the only club without such a sponsor, was relegated last season.
Japanese brands usually pay V. League a lot of attention. In 2020, sportswear brand Jogarbola became the official jersey sponsor for Quang Nam FC, Thanh Hoa FC and Hai Phong FC, while sports equipment producer Mizuno joined up with Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL).
World-renowned sportswear brand Kappa from Italy sponsored both Hanoi FC and HCMC FC. Besides, Spanish sports brand Kelme signed sponsorship deals with Hong Linh Ha Tinh and Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh. Song Lam Nghe An scored a contract with Mitre, the oldest sports brand in the world, established in the U.K. in 1817, while Than Quang Ninh hooked up with South Korean brand Joma. Other clubs are being sponsored by local brands.
However, by the end of the 2020 season, Hanoi and HCMC would have to find another jersey sponsor, as Kappa has announced its departure from both clubs.
One of the most decorated and popular local clubs, Hanoi has enjoyed Kappa sponsorship since 2011, though for the past nine years, jersey sales had failed to meet the Italian brand’s expectations.
“When we did a survey, most fans said they really liked the club’s jersey and want to buy one. But the fact is, Hanoi only sells a few hundred jerseys each season. In addition to the expensive price, Vietnamese fans are not really familiar with buying authentic jerseys to support clubs,” said Vo Le Trung, general director of Hanoi Sport JSC.
The price for a 2020 Hanoi FC combo comprising a jersey, scarf and hat is VND600,000 ($25.98), already a better deal compared to a few years ago when a single jersey is sold for VND500,000. Despite this strategy, the number of jerseys sold has never reached the 1,000 mark in a season. Therefore, aside from finding a new jersey sponsor for the new season, Hanoi also has to figure out how to boost sales. Vietnam’s GDP per capita last year was $2,800.
Unlike Hanoi, HCMC has had three different jersey sponsors over the past three seasons – Mizuno in 2018, South Korean brand Zaicro in 2019, and Kappa this year. Since the latter ended its contract with HCMC, the club signed with Kelme.
The price for a HCMC jersey is VND500,000, which is quite high for fans. But it is still no match for Than Quang Ninh. Since their jerseys are made in Spain, fans have to pay VND700,000 to don an official club shirt.
HCMC further failed to capitalize on jersey sales this season after recruiting famed national team members Nguyen Cong Phuong and Bui Tien Dung.
HAGL was the first club to focus on selling jerseys and merchandise when their first batch of players from HAGL – Arsenal JMG Academy debuted in 2015 V. League. They built two stores, one at their stadium and another at their headquarters. The initial feedback was positive, with hundreds of jerseys sold in only a few days.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai’s jersey for the 2020 season, designed by Mizuno. Photo courtesy of Hoang Anh Gia Lai.
But when the team failed to play up to expectation and sales started to decline, sponsors withdrew and HAGL turned the stores into coffee shops. Mizuno, club jersey sponsor since 2018 only sold a few hundred shirts per season, eventually deciding to quit since it could not cover the manufacturing cost.
Even when Mizuno dropped the price by half, from VND700,000 to 350,000, fans still preferred the replica, priced at VND90,000.
Room for improvement
When it comes to jersey sales, Vietnamese clubs lack proper store facilities.
“The jersey market is full of potential and can profit clubs. But Hanoi didn’t focus on establishing stores. during the 2020 season, we only sold jerseys online or directly at the company headquarter,” Trung said.
“Next year, we have to set up a proper store system to reach more fans, along with reducing prices,” he added.
A few years ago, Than Quang Ninh made around VND10 million a month from a store located inside their home stadium. Although the figure is low, it still topped current sales, conducted solely online. With their stadium Cam Pha newly renovated, the club could consider reopening their physical store.
“In other leagues, jerseys sales are a great source of income for clubs. But in Vietnam, it’s not yet a developed or marketable business. In 2021, HAGL jerseys will be back in stores. Our goal is to approach fans and help them form a habit of buying authentic jerseys to support clubs,” said Tong Duc Thuan, a representative of Mizuno in Vietnam.