The Football Association does a lot of things. It governs all aspects of our national game. Its remit is vast. It is the infrastructure around which football at all levels is built.
But it is also a commercial body. And it does licensing. More and more of it, actually. Its two main brands are the England team (as represented, visually, by the iconic Three Lions Crest and player imagery) and the FA Cup (most often represented by a likeness of the cup itself). Traditionally, most of the emphasis and opportunity is associated with the former, but with the latter more and more in the spotlight, and not just because of this weekend’s final between Chelsea and Everton.
The FA’s commercial team is split into various divisions responsible for areas such as broadcast rights, sponsorship and business development. It is into this latter category to which licensing falls, with Kevin Hall, who joined the organisation last year, at the forefront of the programme.
The FA works with CPLG Sport, its UK and European licensing agency, to co-ordinate and expand its network of licensees, a line-up that is currently around 35 and will be nearer 50 when by the time next year’s World Cup rolls around (especially with England now well placed to qualify).
There won’t be a mad scramble, however, as The FA likes to work with a stable of partners in four year cycles that incorporate two major international tournaments: the European Championships and (ending with) the World Cup.
It’s around these events, as Hall says, that “the country goes mad” – and it’s up to him and the team to, whilst maintaining the frenzied excitement (and buying), convince not just consumers but licensees and retailers that the England brand represents a year round opportunity – albeit one with staggering peaks governed by what is, ultimately, an unpredictable and uncontrollable factor: the performance of the England team.
“We commissioned some consumer research this time last year and can segment England fans from the hardcore through to those who get swept up by the excitement of a major tournament. This also shows that in total there are around 27 million adult England fans.
“Many of them are also supporters of smaller clubs, but they follow England to see the biggest players and the biggest matches.”
Amongst the portfolio already signed up for the four-year period ending with the tournament in South Africa next year, some of the biggest are Topps (trading cards), Konami (video games), Football Mania (stationery & various accessories), Hy-Pro (footballs & training accessories), Zap (duvets & soft furnishings) and Sporting iD (numbers and letters for attachment to England kits).
A recent addition to the line-up is Premium Factory, an international company specialising in promotional items. It has developed a unique lunchbox concept called Shirt Box. It will hit the High Street in the autumn.
By the end of September, unless they try really hard, England should have secured qualification to the 2010 World Cup (they currently top their group with 15 points out of a possible 15 and some very winnable games to come).
Hall knows the good news will be welcomed wholeheartedly, by The FA’s partners and by the High Street: “People were surprised and disappointed by the non-qualification for Euro 2008, and they’d be even more disappointed if we weren’t at the World Cup, we know that, especially in the midst of a recession.”
Tesco will be particularly pleased, as it is the Official England Supermarket, meaning they will be working with The FA closely in the coming months to maximise this association.
There are two levels of engagement with the England licensing programme: Team England and non-Team England. Both categories get to use the Three Lions Crest, but the former delivers the rights to use the images of England players. But, crucially, there must always be at least four squad members used on licensed product. It’s a team game, remember, and the players have a collective agent, called 1966, which was formed in collaboration with Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment.
Annual revenues generated by the England licensing programme currently stand at around £75 million, but that’s bound to grow significantly in 2010, God/Fabio willing.
Hall says: “We are hopeful of a strong performance subject to a successful qualifying campaign. As England has not featured in a tournament since the 2006 World Cup, the market has been starved of Three Lions product and we are anticipating strong demand.
“Although there are touch economic conditions at present, successful qualification, associated national pride and optimism can serve to lift the country’s spirits.”
A harder sell, perhaps, is the FA Cup. The partisan nature of fans means that the emotional (and financial) investment is in the team competing for the trophy, not the trophy itself. Except, as Hall points out, The FA Cup is a little different.
“One of my goals when I joined was to initiate a licensing programme and we’re in the process of doing that. We’re confident that there’s a considerable opportunity, particularly in the collectable and heritage market.”
No signings have been announced as yet, and Hall admits that it’s a business that will only kick in for season 09/10, with publishing, toys and games amongst the other categories being considered.
“It’s the world’s best loved domestic cup competition and the visual of the cup itself will be key to the programme.”
With England looking certain to compete and maybe even shine at the World Cup next summer, and the FA Cup’s commercial campaign set to be up and running, 2010 is set to be a banner year, for football and The FA.