Earlier this week I visited Kitbag in Manchester to meet the company MD Ray Evans. Ray recently won ‘Personality of the Year’ at the City of Manchester Business Awards hosted by Downtown Manchester a few weeks ago. Kitbag is a remarkable success story, and the North West firm has built its brand, reputation and market share on the worldwide popularity of the Premier League.
Every day, Kitbag take literally thousands of orders from the USA, the Far East and Europe for replica shirts and other football related merchandise. The business Ray heads is an impressive, effective and efficient machine which not only has a relationship with most of the leading clubs in England, but also with Barcelona and Real Madrid too.
In particular, Kitbag have forged strong partnerships with two of our regions football clubs Everton and Man City, providing retail management support via the club shops. Whatever the negatives about the Premier League for the football traditionalists, and I have articulated them on a couple of occasions in previous blogs myself, there is no doubt that, as a product, it has created business opportunities and jobs.
Football can also be good news for a city economy too. Liverpool bars, restaurants and hoteliers will tell you that they have seriously missed Champions League football this season. Comparatively, Manchester has the advantage of arguably football’s biggest global brand, United, and the associated business spin off’s and profile that the most successful Premier League club brings.
This weekend, United face City in the first ever all Manchester Wembley FA Cup Semi Final. It offers an opportunity to showcase the Manchester brand to a worldwide television audience, and even without the talents of Rooney and Tevez, it promises to be a fantastic and memorable spectacle. Next season, the chances are that both City and United will be competing in the Champions League.
Again, from a business perspective, this will provide a huge boost, and with the imminent arrival of the National Football Museum in Manchester, it is clear to see the benefits the ‘beautiful game’ can bring. I have mentioned the lack of Champions League football at the other end of the M62, and by their own standards Liverpool, and to a lesser extent Everton, have had a poor time of things in recent seasons.
The Anfield club show signs of revival sooner rather than later, but for the Blues, in the absence of an investor, the wait for real success looks likely to continue for some considerable time. For Liverpool’s business community, the return of European football for both clubs is high on their wish list.
And of course it is not only in our two major cities that football provides economic benefit. Bolton play in the other FA Cup Semi Final against Stoke City this weekend; and Blackburn along with Blackpool will be striving to retain Premier League status in the remaining weeks of the season. As Burnley will testify, a place in the most watched league in the world can transform the profile and image of a town.
It is more than football nowadays. It is most definitely business. In the end though, it is still mostly about supporters. Today is the twenty second anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Please remember the 96 who died so needlessly at an FA Cup Semi Final that will always be remembered – but for all the wrong reasons.