The on-demand supply of digitally printed, laser-cut graphics to embellish sports apparel will help World Cup merch vendors cater for fans seeking customised and personalised garments, writes Jeremy Bauer, Global Commercial Director, Embelex at Avery Dennison RBIS.
World Cup fever is well and truly kicking in and global interest in the tournament will inevitably boost football shirt sales. One estimate is that the soccer apparel market will grow by US$ 2.62 billion, between 2020 and 2025 driven by team popularity and high-profile events like this.
For Qatar 2022, nearly every national team will be sporting a brand new kit design, sparking huge demand for branded replica shirts, boosting the coffers of sportswear brands. It’s big business for big name brands who are dominating the market. Interestingly, only six World Cup football teams are not supplied by Adidas, Nike and Puma. Nike alone has designed 13 nations’ shirts.
Whatever their back-story, World Cup shirts will be worn with pride by millions of fans this winter and beyond. These garments are a physical link to memorable moments in time, and they embody the raw emotions people feel for their teams. Personalisation of kits takes this relationship one step further, and now Digital ID technology applied to garments is taking that connection to an even more engaging level.
Personalisation and customisation with heat transfers
Football shirt retailers and online vendors who offer printing services for the kits they sell need the latest technology to keep up with rising demand for personalised and customised products. These include laser-cut graphics, printed images, names and logo on kits. They can also be applied to unlicenced merchandise, from kids’ pyjamas to hoodies.
Thanks to software and high-precision, high-speed production processes, it’s become easier for independent stores, clubs and organisations to offer personalised clothing and accessories quickly and cost-effectively, on site. On-demand production through semi- automation and downloadable software are enabling new business models to reach local markets. Thanks to the affordability of the latest heat transfer application software and hardware, smaller firms can easily set themselves up to print football shirts, on-demand, no matter where in the world they’re located.
Larger retailers will use an external supplier to manage high volumes of printed and personalised sportwear for a global customer base. In this case, it will help to team with a supplier with access to global distribution centres, for the necessary stock to be supplied on a just-in-time basis, cutting waste and lost revenues to a minimum.
Full-service, on-product branding and customisation, such as that provided by Avery Dennison’ Embelex operation, can guarantee speed and agility. We have large manufacturing centres dotted around the globe, where we can personalise garments at scale. With customisation and personalisation now such an integral part of sports fandom, we’ve seen interest in these services escalate in recent years.
Connected garments heighten the experience
Taking customisation one step further, the Internet of Things (IoT) now connects garments to online content. Smart embellishments are transforming football shirts into ‘smart shirts’, with digital triggers embedded in their logos or badges. These connect to a Digital Product Passport (DPP), or digital twin, stored in the cloud – an interesting proposition for sportswear brands, teams, sponsors, and fans alike.
Through these scannable smart heat transfers or QR codes on garments, embellishments and packaging, it’s possible for consumers to open up apps on their smartphones, and access rich sources of information. Sporting events on the scale of the NFL Super Bowl, the UEFA Women’s Euros, and FIFA World Cup present an ideal opportunity for sports marketing and fanbase-building in this way.
The aim is to further enhance people’s experiences while creating an online space where teams can find new ways to tailor experiences and target specific consumers. Even at grassroots level – local football teams and athletics clubs – smart technology attached to textiles can help build engagement, by providing online information and incentives to participants, reached through the physical kits they buy and wear.
For example, smart shirts can enable fans to access online competitions for tickets, video content, social media fanbase discussions, and much more. There’s even the opportunity for one-to-one, personalised marketing through this interactive communication channel.
Harnessing technology to provide a better experience for fans
Digital product passports in team-branded garments can also help to eliminate counterfeits – a major problem both for the global football apparel market, and for fans who don’t like being ripped off. With the simple smartphone scan of a digital triggers – perhaps a digital care label – customers can access legitimate URLs of brands and confirm authenticity.
Retailers, brands and teams can also leverage data accessed through the live digital twin of a sold shirt, to provide insights, drive decisions and improve supply chain efficiency.
Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, estimates that 5 billion people around the world will watch the 2022 World Cup. Many viewers will be enjoying matches through digital devices. I believe harnessing Digital ID technology embedded in shirts will provide a better experience for fans when tournaments like these take the world by storm.
UK Premier League jerseys are already embedded with smart digital technology , for example. This enables fans to scan a number on their jersey with their mobile and receive a bespoke Premier League experience.
With customisation, personalisation and digitalisation re-imagining the sports trade, the endless possibilities of connected kit cannot be ignored. Sportswear marketers will need to think creatively about the best ways to use this Digital ID technology to brings fans ever closer to the teams, players and tournaments they love. Digital engagement is the name of the game.