Football is a widely played and watched game in the world; with over 200 teams and 24 percent viewership worldwide. This high percentage of viewers, in turn, contributes to high loyalty to football teams, clubs and players. Football fans are known to be one of the passionate groups in the world as they have been seen crying, rioting and throwing celebratory parties over the outcome of the matches. It is part of their identity and Sports Managers are aware of this fact as they use it in branding and merchandising. Sales go through the roof whenever there is a new premier league or world cup however the sales are affected more when a major player transfers from one club to another. Acquisition of a player is extremely expensive as the club giving away their player is losing potential business and the club gaining will be seeing future profits. This acquisition of players is called “Transfer” and the club that acquires the player pays a transfer fee to the previous club of the player excluding the signing of the player. For instance; Paris Saint-Germain F.C. paid approximately 489 million euros for signing with Neymar da Silva Santos Junior including the transfer fee. This transfer broke the world record of Football Transfers (Jones, 2018).
Having a strong roster of professional players under a club’s belt not only ensures great performance in the matches but also guarantees high merchandise sales, thanks to the consumer behavior of the fans. Each player represents a different set of inspirations to the fans and to feel closer to the players; these fans buy official merchandise and even the products that are endorsed by these players. Brands have reported a rise in the sales of their products when it was endorsed by players like Neymar, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo. This paper will explore the effect a player’s transfer has on the consumer behavior of the fans and the extent of it throughout the recent years.
In 2014, the United States of America reported that the sports industry was valued at 213 billion dollars with 32 billion made through the sales of merchandise to the fans of each sport. This shows that the major revenue is made through the fans so there is a need for research on consumer behavior. However; the sports industry is an extremely broad topic and cannot be covered in this paper so the focus of the study is going to be the consumer behavior of the fans when a football player transfers from one football club to the other. This will considerably narrow down the scope of research and give a more in-depth look into the consumer behavior of the fans.
As previously stated the acquisition of a player by a club is called a “Transfer” and this is done to strengthen the roster of the club in hopes of securing high profits in future matches. These transfers are of great interest to the fans of football and the Football Clubs are aware of this. Due to this high interest, the transfer is highly commercialized and each club looks for new ways of making high profits through the consumers. To understand this behavior one must first look at the definition of consumer behavior; “The process of taking action and decisions while making a purchase of goods and services by the people who make the purchase” (Blackwell et al., 2006). At this point, Football has become more a business than sports and every aspect of the sports is commercialized so much so that even the fans can detect the disingenuous attempts of “connecting with the fans” as marketing ploys.
The fan loyalty has been affected severely and their spirits are diminishing so to rekindle their bond with football; player transfers have become vital. The transfer of the players piques the interest of the fans as they are curious to see the future performance of the league with new player placements. This is also the time when T-shirts sales skyrocket apart from premier leagues and world cup matches.
In August of 2021, Lionel Messi announced his transfer to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and with it, new official merchandise with the player’s ensemble was introduced. Fans waited in lines outside PSG’s official stores to buy the new jerseys. It was estimated that nearly 830,000 T-shirts were sold within the 24 hours of the launch; breaking the record of Christian Ronaldo of 520,000 T-shirts sold in 24 hours. This record was previously held by Neymar who sold 10,000 T-shirts in 24 hours when he transferred to PSG from Barcelona (Gorsler, 2021). However, in the September of 2021, Ronaldo took back the title of most T-shirts sold back from Messi when he announced his transfer back to Manchester United. His “No. 7” jersey was put on pre-order at the price of 31 dollars apiece (Statista, 2021). The jerseys made approximately 45 million dollars within the first 12 hours of the pre-order. This revenue crushed the high revenue record set by Messi’s kits’ sale (Silbert, 2021).
Figure 1 Revenue Generated by Top 10 Football Teams through T-shirt sales (Statista, 2021)
After the official transfers are made before the new season; replica kits are manufactured for the fans for a more inclusive experience. Fans adorn their teams’ colors to show their support during the event regenerating millions of dollars in revenue for the Football club. The ten leading football teams of Europe have generated 1 billion dollars for the season of 2020-21 from replica kits supplies; with a total of 1.58 billion dollars of revenue generated across the 255 clubs. 63 percent of which is reeled in by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Juventus. The report presented by GlobalData confirmed that these ten clubs have seen increased revenue between 71 percent and 442 percent in value which is more than the previously generated revenue. The highest revenue was generated by Manchester United with its deal with PUMA which was worth 86 million dollars per season (GD, 2020).
Figure 2 Percentage of Revenue generated by the top 10 Football teams through replica kit deals (GD, 2020).
Over the years, the replica kit supply-demand has increased drastically and is still on the rise. This revenue was only 50 percent in the past six years, however; it increased by 200 percent when the top 10 football clubs signed new agreements with sports brands. This increased the quality of the replica kits manufactured and the fans were assured that they will be getting the same product as the team or player they support. This is where their consumer behavior comes into play as the product that is presented to them is manufactured by the same company that supplies the kits to the team. This sense of closeness drives the fans to buy the kits even if they are expensive. For them, it is like being part of the team and this feeling makes them buy the products that have no practical use in daily life. Their passion drives them to buy the official products and the Football clubs provide them with more variety so that they keep coming back for the new product. This behavior of the fans is not a shallow need for attachment; it is the degree of love and emotional attachment that they feel for a particular football team (Marquetto et al., 2017).
The sports industry is one of the most profitable industries at this time and this is due to its high marketability. Fans of each sport are vital not only for the boosted morale of the team but also for an added revenue stream that generates the industry billions of dollars every year. Football clubs are no different from the rest of the sports industry and they use every aspect of this sport to bring in more profits. In this regard, player transfers are treated as events that hype the fans and make them buy the new merchandise to show support for the player. This also ensures future sales when a new season of matches is about to begin as the fans will be willing to buy more merchandise. Sports consumption has always been focused on fans’ behavior and it is through studying this behavior that the Sports industry can monetize many aspects of sports. These not only include the jersey sales but also match tickets, souvenirs, replica footballs, etc. However; just studying the fan behavior for future sales is not enough as their interests are ever-changing and in the past, this has caused a decrease in sales. That is the reason why the player transfers play a vital role in reviving the interest of the football fans. Spending on the transfers elevates the performance of a team and the purchase behavior of the fans.
Although an unsuccessful player transfer can negatively impact the team performance and fans’ behavior it is a risk that most clubs are willing to take as the annual revenue reports present more profits than losses. Change in transfer policy has had a great impact on the fan behavior and has helped in making it more predictable considering that lack of fan interest had caused a deep financial crisis to football, previously. Of course; the performance of a team is also responsible for driving in sales but highlighting each player during the transfer allows the clubs to present each player’s strength individually. This also gives the players a spotlight and allows the fans to assess the player’s capabilities. This is a marketing strategy that makes the consumer feel in control and gains their trust which in turn ensures increased sales and revenue (Khudiyev, 2020).
This study shows that the fans of every sport have been a vital part of revenue for decades, however, the behavior of fans is ever-changing and has resulted in the decrease of revenue many times. For this reason, the Football industry has been changing its transfer policies in a way that would make the fan behavior more predictable so that the revenue stream generated through them is not affected negatively. This has worked as the top 10 football clubs have doubled their revenues over the years raking in millions of dollars over every season. Fans love to show their support for their favorite players and the transfers are the right time for them to show their increased support for that player (Ronald & Jean-Pierre, 2019). Although most consumer behavior is driven by the need for a product or service and its economic value in the market, however; sports fans’ behavior is purely emotional as they are ardent devotees and enthusiasts. They are not driven by the reasoning behind their purchase of a product rather their emotional fulfillment. It is an unstable market as it depends on the irrational choices of the consumer rather than the rational ones. However; new merchandise also includes products that can be used on daily basis but still, the major revenue comes from the football kits (Khudiyev, 2020).
The study aimed to explore the effect players’ transfers have on the consumer behavior of the fans. The data shown represent the way the fans bring high revenue just through the T-shirt sales. This is due to their emotional attachment to the players and the teams so to show their support they are willing to buy merchandise even though it is not a rational purchase. Many changes to transfer policies have been made to keep the fans interested in the sports so that profits can be ensured.
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