Why are we so obsessed with sports merchandise?

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert

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37 Have your say

    One day last week, I found myself sifting though an entire room full of rugby league replica jerseys; 15 boxes of the blighters.

    And since I can’t bring myself to take anything at all in life at face value, from a sunny day to the concept of schadenfreude, I found myself pondering a couple of things.

    One, despite all the whining in columns like this about what officials should and shouldn’t do and how much more prosperous another sport might be, rugby league is big business. This stuff flies off shelves.

    Jerseys in Australia are almost $200 (in the UK the same thing is less than 50 quid) and people don’t waste a minute parting with their cash.

    Can you actually conceive of the figure that the NRL TV deal is worth? Two billion dollars? Can you imagine how you would spend that … responsibly?

    Each one of these neatly packaged jerseys represents a fan who is keen enough to buy one. Here they are, maybe 100 in a box. That’s an amazing thrall you are holding over someone’s emotions with a tangible commercial return. When you think about it, you handle the merchandise a little more devoutly.

    Secondly, there is the entire idea of sports merchandise itself.

    These are bits of material with some embroidery and some printing. Why do they mean so much to us? Why do companies pay so much for licensing from leagues and clubs? How can they be sold at massive mark-ups?

    Why do we care so much about the indigenous shirt or this year’s Marvel Superhero design? We can even argue about these things….

    Brad Takairangi Eels

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    To me, a team’s colours are a bit like a song we first heard when we were 13. It’s apparently called the reminiscence bump; you love things you first encountered in your teens and 20s when your brain was maturing.

    Our attachment to club colours is not completely explainable and not completely linked to the obvious, the same as we don’t like a song because of the chord progression and style of drumming.

    Sports merchandising makes money out of these subconscious human tendencies.

    I’m new at working in this industry but when we sold Toronto Wolfpack and other gear outside Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday, and a little boy or girl asked their dad for a cap or a jersey, I did find myself questioning whether we were selling something real or if we were just flogging an illusion.

    Toronto Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez fronts the press.

    Toronto Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez fronts the press.

    Is this business moral?

    Like I said, bits of material with printing and embroidery. In themselves, nothing special.

    I could only look to myself for an answer. I was one of those kids; went to Peppers Sports Store and bought one of the first Illawarra Steelers jerseys ever put on sale in 1981 after begging my parents for it.

    Things were very different then. In their first season the Steelers weren’t on TV much and at the 1982 grand final a Manly fan looked at the already-fading scarlet and asked me what team it was – a team that had been in the same comp as Manly all year.

    I once heard Eddie Lumsden say that when he arrived in Sydney to play for St George, he didn’t know what their jersey looked like!

    Now we know everything for TV but in 2018 watching games on there is optional for me. I weened myself off treating every game of rugby league as special. On Sunday I snuck in and watched 10 minutes of the first half and that’s it.

    But when I stack the jerseys, sort through the caps and hang the training singlets, I’m the 12 year old at Warrawong Shopping Centre again. Back then, the Steelers hadn’t played a game; perhaps they’d signed one or two players. I was wearing an idea, something that bestowed upon its wearer an identity.

    If you’re English or Australian wearing a Toronto Wolfpack jersey, chances are you’re a bit like I was then – full of wonder and keen to get out and see the big world.
    The brands your friends are into are not for you.

    That might be why we gave the Warrington-following dad a discount when both his sons insisted on a Wolfpack jersey even though Dad reminded them the Canadian team had just been flogged 66-10. Maybe they’ll remember Sunday as an early flicker of individuality.

    Maybe one of them might even write a column about it.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of rugbyleaguehub.com, hardrockhub.com and hotmetalonline.com. He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • May 15th 2018 @ 7:09am
      peeko said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      who goes out an buys the special jerseys? at nearly 200 bucks i dont know anyone that would buy a super hero, anzac, indigenous, womens week jersey.

      do the wests tigers have more jerseys or home grounds? i have it jerseys 8-6

    • May 15th 2018 @ 7:10am
      Gurudoright said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      I’m a lifetime Dragons supporter and I love the big red V jersey. Although I understand the need for an alternate jersey, I prefer seeing the Dragons play in the big red V when possible. Obviously there is a need to wear an alternate jersey when playing a team with a predominantly white jersey like the Bulldogs but not every Tom, Dick and Harry. I don’t want to see them in a comic book strip, a pink V (I understand the symbolism of it but I don’t like it), a red jersey with indigenous symbols all over it ( again I understand the symbolism of it). I just want to see my team in it’s proper traditional jersey. I feel like clubs are selling their souls with their jerseys for a few extra bucks and although some fans like the different jerseys I feel there are plenty who don’t.

      • Roar Guru

        May 15th 2018 @ 9:11am
        spruce moose said | May 15th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Obviously there is a need to wear an alternate jersey when playing a team with a predominantly white jersey like the Bulldogs but not every Tom, Dick and Harry.

        Really? Funny how this is only a recent need. The Bulldogs and Dragons played each other for 80 years and didn’t seem to get confused. Nor did the fans.

        It’s not AFL or soccer. It’s a line v line sport. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to get confused.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 9:18am
          Hanrahan said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

          ” The Bulldogs and Dragons played each other for 80 years and didn’t seem to get confused.”
          And half the time they all looked the same after ten minutes in the mud (except the wingers).

          • Roar Guru

            May 16th 2018 @ 11:37am
            Matt H said | May 16th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            The wingers usually got their first taste of mud when shaking hands at the end.

      • May 15th 2018 @ 1:35pm
        godragonsgo said | May 15th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

        I struggle with teams turning up to play the Dragons in their away strip that is closer to the Dragons strip than the usual jersey. Warriors a couple of years ago wore a silver strip against us instead of the black and Souths this year. Souths normal jersey has black piping down the sides and across the top but to play the Dragons at Kogorah they wore the away strip that has white side sand piping. Very confusing?

    • May 15th 2018 @ 7:25am
      Jordan said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      I reckon the quality of the merch is pretty bad in Australia, yet we still lap it up.

      Ill fitting stuff, tacky faded designs, team sponsors, too many bright colours.

      US sports teams are starting to figure out you can make gear that is restrained, tasteful and creative.

      A decent piece of quality sportswear outaide of jersies is few and far between in Australia and yet you still see all the aweful gear worn by supporrers anyway.

      • Roar Guru

        May 15th 2018 @ 12:48pm
        Train Without A Station said | May 15th 2018 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

        Not to be a pedant, but that’s quality of the design, not the merch itself.

        Though I agree.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 9:13am
        Markie362 said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        I buy all my nrl merch in bali.fraction of the cost

    • May 15th 2018 @ 7:34am
      bear54 said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      What bothers me more than anything is the exorbitant mark up on jerseys. If they cost more than $20 to produce I’ll be surprised and yet they sell for $160.00??? That’s an appalling gouge on the dedicated fans when, as has been pointed out, teams like the Wests Tigers produce multiple jerseys every season.

      • May 15th 2018 @ 8:43am
        AGO74 said | May 15th 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        That’s just supply and demand. Pretty much any fashion item even of good quality is cheap to make given where the merch is made ie Bangladesh, china Etc. it’s just the branding/marketing people are paying for.

    • Roar Guru

      May 15th 2018 @ 7:38am
      Con Scortis said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      I’ve always thought the cost of jerseys was ridiculous in Australia.

      I purchased my nephew his first Rabbitohs jersey a couple of weeks ago (yes, I have indoctrinated him into being a bunny as his dad is Canadian and has no real allegiances).

      The “2018” jersey (size 8) was $150. The “2017” jersey was $60. There was absolutely no difference between the 2017 and 2018 versions. They were totally identical. They had exactly the same style. Exactly the same sponsor logos. They both have a Rabbitoh logo on the right-hand side.

      There was no discernible difference other than the 2018 “plate” cost more than twice as much as the 2017 “plate”.

      What’s the deal with that? Footy jerseys are not cars, for goodness sake!

      • Roar Pro

        May 15th 2018 @ 8:46am
        Jason Andrews said | May 15th 2018 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        Because they use the “Hip and Cool” method that you have to have the up to date version to be a real supporter, why do you think that the clubs change their membership packages each year?

    • Roar Guru

      May 15th 2018 @ 8:00am
      BigJ said | May 15th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      I wrote an article about this last year although it was published I have been saying this for a while now. There is a different jersey virtually each week now, it’s ridiculous. Someone please tell me what the Marvel universe which is an American comic book series that was made by Stan Lee and his mates back in the 1960s that is now owned by Disney got to do with the NRL? You do not the NFL or the NBA doing that to their jersey so why us??? I have no problem with the Women’s or Indigenous jersey they have a place but all these super heroes ones have got to go. Plus why are they 200 bucks each when they are made in some sweat shop for 10 bucks??? Even when sports stores sell them for 80 bucks they still made a profit. I have no issue with the Nrl making money but with too much merchandise they’ll do themselves out of business.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 15th 2018 @ 9:25am
        Ray Paks said | May 15th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        and then there were the avatar ones which were donned by I think the bulldogs…. yes AVATAR!!!

      • Roar Guru

        May 15th 2018 @ 12:31pm
        BigJ said | May 15th 2018 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        Correction the article was never published

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