MM Sport was founded in 1986 which means that technically and logically speaking 2016 must be its’ 30th year of existence. Which again means happy anniversary! time to celebrate ) One may ask the question. What does the number 30 imply in the world of today ? Here a list with a few examples: 30 Years War during 17th century Europe was a transformative force within religion, politics, military technology and the power balance. 30 years birthday in the life of a human means that the immediate youth is over. 30 years mortgage is a standard maturity on housing loans. 30 days in a month is often used as reference for time calculation. +30 is the international dial code for Greece. Probably a prefix well-known in Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin by now. Not long ago 25 years would be considered the time frame of a generation. Today in many developed countries the time where a woman gives birth to her first child has increased so it might not be unfair to consider 30 years the time frame of a generation. Thus a person born in 1986 may in 2016 have reached the point in life where he or she is awaiting their first baby and thus the inception of a new generation. The 30 years MM Sport has been around for is in some way an image of what the generation of 1986 has been through. That generation which has been born between 1980 and 1995 is referred to as the Millennials. Not sure why a generation in a sociological perspective is 15 years and not 25 or 30 years. But maybe it is too long time to wait until a new term can be coined and new studied introduced and new marketing strategies developed towards a distinctly new group of consumers. And in any case the time frame from 1980 seems to be mis-guided since someone growing up in 1980 would have had a rather different experience compared to someone growing up in 1990. The breaking point distinguishing the two of course being the events at a global scale taking place during the years from 1989 and until 1991. Where were we in 1986 ? Ronald Reagan was well inside his second term having been re-elected in 1984. Chernobyl broke down releasing massive amounts of nuclear pollution. The World Cup 1986 took place in Mexico. Still being rotated between Europe and Latin America. The space shuttle Challenger explodes effectively putting an end to space exploration. At least in the US. The Sovjets at the same time launches a new space station called MIR. Gorbachev surges ahead with reforms of the Sovjet economy.
1986-1996 – The Beginnings
MM Sport was founded in 1986 by Mr. Martin Maretti whom for an unknown reason chose to name his newly born baby after his own initials. Most likely most entrepreneurs who go this way do it for a lack of better ideas. Businesses are usually established in order to fill a hole in the market. Someone has an idea or a passion for a product or a service and cannot get his own demand for this product met. Thus he or she decides to provide the product him or herself. In 1986 the market for sports related merchandise was very limited to what we have today and there was no commercial Internet. Fake football shirts could be bought in touristic places in Spain and Italy. And in England there was a limited selection of licensed products. But any widespread distribution as we know it of today was not present at the time. Mr. Maretti was an avid football fan and thus figured that he might be able to offer something to football fans in Denmark which at the time was unavailable domestically. Football fever was raging in Denmark at the time. The point of departure being 1979. A new German coach Sepp Piontek took on the unadmirable task of making a competitive team out of a perennial loser. Denmark had never participated in a World Cup. The only participation in EURO tournament was in 1964 where the country ended up last as number 4 out of 4. In 1983 Denmark won at the Wembley against England with 1-0. A historical triumph and the team went on to qualify for the EURO 1984 in France. Denmark also qualified for 1986 in Mexico. First time ever at a World Cup. Violence was very much a part of football culture at the time centered around the English hooligans. The Danish fans won international acclaim for their more relaxed and peaceful behavior sparking the Roligan movement. The symbol of the Rooligan movement was the Klaphat. A standard baseball style cap but equipped with two arms at the front and when pulling a draw string would clap the hands. The purpose of the clapping is unknown since the act would not produce any sound. Maybe it was thought as a peaceful gesture clapping rather than hitting. The flat and open rather than the fist. The essential piece of Roligan equipment would be become the first and for a while only item in the catalog of MM Sport. Sales were somewhat lacking at the beginning since the build up a customer group is not easy when the concept is based on a single product unless you are Google of course. And another issue many entrepreneurs encounter is distribution. You have this great offering but how do you get it out there ? Any kind of advertisement will easily eat up any profits or even revenues of the increased sales. So MM Sport was off to a very slow start. Initially the sales channel of choice was what as of today would be referred to as a pop-store. A stand outside football stadiums in the towns in vicinity of Randers, Jutland, Denmark. Later when the catalogue grew the focus would shift to distance selling through a catalogue. The preferred method of post order sales prior to the advent of the WWW. To put the time into perspective it may be useful to take a look at year of foundation of other companies in the same industry. Most companies have been established only after football took off and grew exponentially during the 1990s. SubsideSports is from 1997 Kitbag – 1999 Worldsoccershop – 2001 Soccer.com – 1984 MadeinSport – 1997 Smartguy / Stylepit – 2000 (Danish fashion and apparel retailer – used to be the biggest DK based pure-play Internet company) EZshopnet – 2007 adidas.com is registered in 1995 – online sales were introduced as late as 2008 nike.com is registered in 1995 – online sales were introduced only in 2007 Soccer.com preceeds MM Sport with 2 years but their focus until their acquistion many years later of worldsoccershop.com was mainly on soccer, lacrosse, rugby from a practioners perspective rather than serving the fan segment. Honorable mention has to go out to London institutions like soccerscene and Lilywhites which are now part of SportsDirect. These stores were probably founded during the early 1980s. But it is relatively safe to say that MM Sport is among the first companies worldwide to have delivered merchandise to football fans by remote sales. Since the late 1990s the main driver of the licensed fan business has been centered around the replica shirt. But during the 1980s this product was often not available for retail at all or availability was rather limited. The product was not much sought after either since most people would probably consider it inappropriate to wear informal sports clothing like licensed apparel. Thus the industry resembled that of the stamp, coin, and other collector’s verticals. Fans interested in football would collect scarves or badges or keyrings. The idea was to have an ample collection of different products but not very deep and regardless of fan affinity as opposed to today where fans usually collect a wide range of products narrowly from their favorite club. The trick being a retailer would be to carry a large number of different teams and try to expand the range with niche products carrying value due to scarcity. Wow a scarf from a lower ranking English club like Plymouth which would be near impossible to get hold on apart from in Plymouth and vicinity of the stadium. As today merchandise products would come in all shapes and color
s since a club logo can be applied virtually to any physical product out there. But the driver in those early days was the scarf. The scarf was relatively easy to store. Easy to hang on the wall, did have a certain size important for visibility, and could even be used at a practical level. All important attributes. Keyrings, teddy bears, flags and other such items would not be just quite as practical. All that was going to change for good during the 1990s. But during the 1980s maybe apart from the UK most sales in the category were merchandise related rather than apparel based. The World Cup in 1986 came and passed but will be remembered by many as one of the best ever. It certainly carries a lot of very memorable moments which lets it live on. Denmark qualified for the EURO 1988 – second time in a row – an almost unimaginable feat prior to 1983 but at the time self-confidence had risen and people had come to expect great performances among the elected few taking to the field wearing the red/white colors. Mexico at the time was a world apart but Germany just south of the border was much more manageable so a massive wave of Danish Roligan fans headed south to support the team. The team flopped though. Lost all three matches. The end of an era. An era which will most likely never be repeated. Denmark did not qualify for the World Cup in 1990, the EURO in 1992 nor the World Cup in 1994. Due to tragic circumstances in Yugoslavia during the early 1990s Denmark did participate in the EURO 1992 in Sweden and the team even ended up winning the pot. But the 1992 team will never become the most beloved in Denmark. The aura surrounding the 1992 team was completely different from that of the 1980s. Come 1989 and the world would change into something unimaginable in 1988 within just a few years. The break-up of the Sovjet Union. The reforms in India and China and opening towards the world and within few years 3 billion people would join the global workforce. Football would change for good with a number of phenomena taking place during the early 1990s which would turn the industry upside down. For the season 1992/93 the Premier League would be a new league format in England taking over from division one. The new structure would place the power firmly in the hands of the clubs and not with the FA or any other external organization. The UEFA Champions League is also a child of the early 1990s modernizing the product making it more commercially appealing as well as paying more consideration to the interests of the top clubs of the continent. The Bosman verdict would remove the bond clubs had on players after their contract expired. An the limitation on the number of foreign players would also be removed after the EU high court ruled that this rule went against the basic principle of the EU inner market for labor. Come the mid 1990s and another phenomenon which would impact not just individual companies like MM Sport but the world at large in profound ways started to gain steam: The Internet or more specifically the World Wide Web.
1996-2006 – Rapid Transformation and Development
MM Sport launched its first website in 1997. The domain name mmsport.dk is registered in 1997. Let’s take a look at how that compares to a number of well-known brandnames from within the Web 1.0 as well as the Web 2.0 Google – 1998 Amazon – 1994 Yahoo – 1995 Lycos – 1994 Altavista – 1995 eBay – 1995 PayPal – 1998 Apple (apple.com is registered in 1987) Microsoft (microsoft.com was registered in 1991) Facebook – 2004 Twitter – 2006 Youtube – 2005 To start a website in 2016 requires less than 10 minutes time and a very limited amount of money. This will bring you a state of the art website with all the bells of whistles. A product of 20 years of rapid evolution and technological progress. Not so in 1997. Few or no companies like godaddy existed back then. Out of the box software even less so. Since MM Sport at the time was a catalog based business it was a steady customer with a printing house. Buch’s Grafiske. A young gentleman had recently joined the company to take care of this new digital publishing fad called the WWW since he was proficient in IT – at least according to his own account. For a reasonable amount he could surely product not just a catalog website but a transactional e-commerce website. Just to get a database for product entry up and running at the time was indeed a challenge of magnificent proportions. The website did go up on the Internet in 1997. Probably one of the first transactional websites in Denmark. It did not take credit cards nor Pay Pal (not invented yet) but it was possible to pay by cash on delivery , or a giro coupon payable in a bank (online banking did not exist). The website had certain flaws which made it near to impossible to order from it – unless one learned a few tricks about where to click and where not to click. The catalogue was organized according to the guiding principle that the customers would seek out product types rather than teams. Change was already under way though. In 1996 the Premier League decided to introduce a uniform name and number set for the entire league. Replica shirts had slowly started to become more accessible for general retail and MM Sport acquired its’ first heatpress. The heatpress was from the company also supplying the Premier League with its letters and numbers: Chris Kay. The machine was scrapped in 2015. so it lasted almost 20 years. HF4500 Serial No: 97111822 Sold: 11th November 1996 The HF4500 model is still in use – why change a product which works ? So the choice for a new machine was pretty straight forward. Let’s get another HF4500. Since the official EPL printing was introduced back at the start of the 1996/97 season MM Sport has been pretty progressive when it comes to offering customized and licensed products already from the very outset. Later on another UK based company MetroSports would also start to provide the official EPL printing as well as other licensed transfer prints. in 2006 or 2007 the two companies were acquired and merged into what is today Sporting ID. What would also influence the industry would be Nike’s entry into the frey starting timidly around 1990 with sponsorship deals with PSG and Dortmund. The World Cup 1994 in the USA seems to have been an eye-opener as to the potential of soccer. In 1995 Nike signed its’ first major kit deal with the Brazilian national team. The reigning world champions and the only country to have won 4 World Cup titles. At the World Cup in France in 1998 several other nations would have joined the Nike stable and during the following years a number of European clubs would switch to Swoosh. Barcelona 1998. Inter 1998. Juventus 2002. Manchester United 2004. Arsenal, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, the list would increase rapidly from 1998 and until around 2006. At that time Nike would sponsor at least one or two of the top teams in every European league. Adidas had woken up after events during the 1990s which would almost see the company go bankrupt. Though it had managed to cling onto Germany, France as well as FC Bayern and Marseille it did not have the wide range of kit deals with top teams it has to today. Real Madrid , AC Milan, Lyon, Chelsea were added during the early 2000s to build a formidable portfolio to rival that of Nike. Nike introduced a number of innovations which would drive the industry and develop it quickly. Football boots in colors (not black and white) Football boots in artificial materials (not leather) Increased range of products: long-sleeve , goal keeper, authentics, replicas , stadium, women’s Increased number of product lines: traning wear, leisure wear, equipment (such product lines may have existed before so maybe Nike was not first but it perfected the art – just like Apple may no have been the first to bring a portable music player to the market but the company which did it right ). Distribution – one distribution center for all of Europe with the same catalogue available to all retailers across the continent. New collections coming out quarter
ly. MM Sport joined in the frey expanding the catalog of products available steadily while trying to build a business around offering the official name and number sets for a number of shirts. Come the early 2000s and the merchandise products of scarves and flags and teddy bears etc. had become a very marginal part of the business. MM Sport as any other company in the licensed football business would derive the vast majority of sales from shirts + complementary products. Though the dot.com bubble burst and turned into the dot.bomb it became obvious at the time that the Internet was here to stay and would constitute and important sales channel for the future. MM Sport decided to scrap the old website and move onto a new platform. The construction of the new platform would came under way during the fall of 2001 and finally go live in February of 2002. The new website would be bi-lingual introducing for the first time an English language website. First order came out of nowhere. When it ticked in it was believed that it was a test order. But by a closer inspection it turned out that there was in fact a Danish guy resident in Australia who wanted a national team jersey to be ready for the World Cup 2002. A new era was born. That of the global market.
2006-2016 – Maturity but Growth
2006 was an important year for Germany. First time post WWII that the country could rejoice and let out the emotions without fear of being rebutted for neo-nazi nationalism. The World Cup 2006 was in many ways a positive return to the roots. Forgotten were the ills of the World Cup in 1990 – poor play , lots of controversy. The politically motivated tournaments of 1994 and 2002 with FIFA’s desire to expand football beyond the continents of Europe and Latin American to turn it into the world’s favored sport (or pastime occupation). And the scandals of the World Cups in 1994 and 1998. Germany 2006 was a fresh re-start. Not without its drama. Especially in the semi-final and in the final but without the negativity of previous cups. What will be remembered will also be the events off the field where a full country embraced the event and with the position in the middle of Europe and thus the ease of access the many people from other countries visiting participating in the party. Few violent incidents took place off the field and all in all the tournament will be remembered as a great event on and off the field. We are yet to see a successful tournament in a “new” footballing country – and I do not think that 2022 in Qatar will be when it happens. World Cup years with the world’s eyes firmly set on the event are always good years revenue wise. 2006 was no exception and MM Sport experienced solid sales. Even though Denmark once again was left out of a major tournament.
The Future – looking ahead – 2016-? Stagnation ?
How will the industry evolve going forward ?
From the late 1990s and until the late 2000s there seemed to be a constant flow of new innovations being introduced. But for the past 10 years or so it has been a pretty steady and regular development without major upheavals or revolutions.
Apparel. The range of kits has been massively extended. The designs have been much more elaborate. The speed of new launches has gone up. Customization has been added which has opened up a whole new category.
Training wear and leisure wear ranges have entered the scene as part of the brand collections both as complement and as substitute for the kits.
Nike seems to have been driving much of this development taking their cue from the licensed market in USA sports which has most likely been established already in the 1970s.
But the vastly increased range of products and improved distribution was already in place some 7-8 years ago.
Official and licensed print products all came around no later than 2004-2006.
The kit ranges have not changed much in scope and setup since 2007-08.
The cycle of national team collections is pretty much in place for some time already evolving around bi-annual large-scale tournaments.
Merchandise has expanded and seems to be driven according to one out of two concepts. The Barcelona model which sells licenses to apply the Barca logo in different geographies. The FC Bayern model where the club runs all merchandising operations tightly. Even though in principle any product out there can be turned into a merchandising product in reality there is an upper limit as to which products make sense to buy as a Barcelona product from a consumer point of view. And the reality in a very scalable industry is that only a handful of clubs have any leverage outside of their home market on a global scale.
The CEO of Kitbag said in an interview that there would be a huge opportunity for increased licensed merchandise sales. He came from a Disney background in the US and with every new Disney movie they sold vast quantities of licensed products relating to the movie. He thought if the merchandise was done right a similar sales success ought to be possible with football.
Not sure if the two are really comparable. The closest we get are probably the tournament licenses for EURO, WC, and maybe the UCL. But the windows are narrow, 1-2 months every two years. And most of the value is derived by partner brands obtaining the license for a specific brand within a specific consumer goods vertical not really for general merchandise products like cups or scarves.
Equipment. Is small scale. Maybe 5% of the total. And it is run more or less like the merchandise simply by adding logos to existing hardware products. Only the tournament balls seem to have a slightly different setup. But I think Adidas has already taken the ball market as far as it can go. Finals ball. Tournament ball. Different colors, sizes, prices.
Footwear. Again a line of business which has been driven largely by Nike innovation putting colors on the boots, using new materials, using more lightweight materials, introducing high end boots to create aspiration and then selling massive amounts of take-down versions of the high-end boots without breaking the link. Another novelty is the principle of running 4 silos of different boots with different qualities and attributes and market them to be markedly different. Though in reality differences are slim.
HyperVenom and Magista were introduced to replace Control and T90 and while adidas has done something similar retiring F50 and Predator and brought on X and Ace well the basic principle already introduced maybe 10 years back is still firmly in place.
The new players trying to move into football if for nothing else to get some publicity for some of their other products like NB and UA follow exactly the same playbook as laid out above.
When Nike starts to pull back a bit it may be sign that they do not see a whole lot of options for moving licensed football forward. That the industry has matured and that growth will have to come from other sources. Recently they have made some massive college deals in the US. They will take over the NBA in 2018. Nike is 69% of US athletic footwear market. Adidas is 8%. And since the US is by far the biggest market in the world probably they think it makes much more sense to invest money at home where UA and NB have become fairly big players and where they must also expect Adidas to make a move. Out of their 30 billion USD sales how much comes from soccer ? 2-3 billion ? and if Steaua does not sell any footwear or standard apparel maybe it is not worth it throwing money after such deals.
All of this leads me to believe that this has become a mature industry with a pretty established setup and a fairly regular business cycle.