At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be taking some time out to travel around Asia. It’s a long held belief amongst LFC fans that we are a worldwide brand and that we are ‘massive in Asia’, so I was wondering whether I would see some LFC kits on the streets of Beijing and Tokyo. Well, I have seen some, but to be honest our brand presence here has been somewhat underwhelming.
I’m writing this in the days following the furore of our transfer deadline day ‘disaster’ and the timelines of my facebook and twitter have been full of uproar and some fairly embarrasing personal attacks aimed at John Henry and FSG. Personally, I’m more concerned with yet another public PR disaster for the club, rather than questions over finances, or our failure to buy Clint Dempsey or Daniel Sturridge.
Although we seem to have been left short in the goalscoring department, I’m not panicking too much. I managed to see the league game against Man City in Tokyo (a midnight kick off local time), and also I saw the UEFA cup game versus Hearts( via a dodgy internet stream on my phone) in the early hours in Hong Kong. Whilst both games ended up as draws, I was very pleased to see some genuinely good passing, movement and attacking play, but until we settle into this new system and improve on our league position, I don’t think we will fully exploit the cash cow that is the Asian market.
The reason for this is that ‘the brand’ is everything out here, and it is directly related to success. Hong Kong in particular is obsessed with labels, with Nike and Adidas everywhere. This is great for Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, whose kits are readily available in their kit sponsors stores. What is interesting is that New Balance is also popular, both in HK and especially in Japan, so i was hopeful that Warrior (as a subsidiary company of New Balance) would be exploiting that popularity with some cross promotion. Sadly this does not happen. There are no LFC kits for sale in their stores (Why not???). The simple fact is that I have yet to see a Warrior LFC kit on my travels. I’ve seen a few for sale in sports shops, but I’ve yet to see one person walking down the street, or in a bar wearing one.
I’ve yet to visit Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore on my trip and I suspect I might see more LFC kits there since that was the area chosen by Warrior to help launch their range. Now their brand ambassador who was present at that launch, Craig Bellamy, has left the club, along with Andy Carroll, but the Warrior football website still prominently shows both of them advertising the various LFC kits. It’s attention to details like this, that make me start to think Warrior need to step up their game.
My search for the LFC presence in Asia got off to a good start, as there is a ‘Bar Liverpool’ in Irkutsk, in Siberia of all places. When i went to find it, I was even more happy to see the club crest prominently displayed above the entrance. Unfortunately, although the exterior was pure sports bar, the interior was more like The Cavern, a cellar bar promising live music, full of scantilly clad waitresses, but with zero customers. In retrospect this was quite a good metaphor for LFC’s entire Asian presence. Warrior seemed to start with a fanfare, kicking a few footballs into Singapore harbour surrounded by the local LFC supporters club, but has this actually translated into sales?
In Beijing I started an unofficial count of football shirts. The runaway winner was Spain kits, only natural given their recent tournament victories, and further proof of the success-worshipping culture over here. Some may call it glory support, but if that accounts for a huge amount of shirts being sold, then glory you must have. Even winning the Premier League doesnt immediately guarantee shirt sales though, as proven when I was in Beijing. where Arsenal were playing Man City in a pre-season friendly. (I didn’t go to the game, mainly because remaining tickets were being sold for £40 – £200… far beyond the means of the average Chinese wage earner and budget traveller!) I got on a subway train full of people wearing Arsenal kits, with only one person wearing a City top. This may be partly due to the Chinese love of red – a lucky colour, but I also suspect it is due to the ready availability of Nike clothing there compared to Umbro. This is the same problem that Warrior has to overcome now.
Even without the train full of Arsenal kits, the London club definitely had the most visible presence in China out of all the premier league clubs. You will be pleased to know that LFC were second, although the most recent kit I saw was last years white adidas away shirt (I also saw last years home kit, but that was being worn by a bloke from Skem, so it doesnt count). Not far behind were Man Utd, although I saw a couple of their most recent tablecloth kits, so they at least have some current sales. Chelsea were the only other club whose shirts I saw, so it would appear that Nike and Adidas are still the brands which count in China.
Japan was the next stop, and while I saw very few football kits on the streets, I did meet a couple of Japanese LFC supporters during my week there. I ventured into a football superstore in Harajuku, the shopping capital of Tokyo. Again, Nike and Adidas had entire floors to themselves, meaning Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich were all prominently on display. The ground floor actually had all kits from all the major european leagues, but while the adidas kits had pride of place, the LFC kit was hidden away somewhat in the furthest aisle from the entrance. Tokyo is ridiculously expensive, but even I was shocked at the cost of 9000 Yen (£85) for a basic kit with no names, numbers or premier league badges. Some people are willing to pay it though, the owner of the bar where I watched our game against City had just spent over £200 on a kit shipped over from England – yes you guessed it – a Man Utd shirt with Kagawa’s name and number on the back….
So now I find myself in Hong Kong, and its the same story here – a few adidas Liverpool kits, going back to a Carlsberg kit circa 2003, but no Warrior. By contrast, the new Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal kits are all here, and the only Everton shirt I have seen is that ridiculous bright pink away one. One thing is clear though, Warrior need to step up their game. In the sports shops here the LFC kits are available, and it does seem that in some cases the home kit has sold out, but I wonder if that is because of our popularity, or the sports shops ordering in a small amount of stock for such a fledgling soccer brand. I can’t help feeling it is the latter in this culture where a label is everything. We might have had a record breaking deal from Warrior to produce our kit, but if that doesn’t translate into sales, then have we shot ourselves in the foot? Where are the LFC stores in Asia to capitalise on our supposed popularity? Next time we assume we are a global brand who are massive in Asia, think again, or at least wait for the Warrior Sports financial results….
Liverpool FC and AFC Liverpool fan