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Thought Leadership

Hatch Thoughts: Creative Directors in Football

by Victoria Tidmarsh

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Yesterday, Crystal Palace announced that it had appointed the Premier League’s very first Creative Director, Kenny Annan-Jonathan. 

Tasked with “overseeing apparel collections and fashion partnerships, starting with the Fall/Winter 2023 collection and products that go beyond typical sports team merch”, it’s a clear power move by the club to build the brand outside of the existing fanbase.

Image via Henry J Kamara for VERSUS

The words “Fall/Winter collection” are enough to make football purists squirm. I don’t even need to go on Twitter/X to know what some of the posts will say. So, what’s the point of a Creative Director when most fans would be happy enough to have a decent Sporting Director in place?

Well, football is and always will be big business, and it’s the business part that’s leading to the industry being at the forefront of innovation in how it engages fans and consumers.

Like it or not, when it comes to The Premier League in particular, non-fan consumers need to be a consideration in a club’s marketing plan. Football tourism means £££, but only for the clubs that position themselves as a brand – something those not in top 6 need to work even harder at. The wider the reach and engagement of these brands, the more money. Simple.

For Crystal Palace, a team that consistently sits near the top of the bottom half of the table, surrounded by ‘big’ London clubs and not expected to make a European run anytime soon, cutting through the noise and making consumers pay attention isn’t easy. So, tapping into other cultural aspects outside of football – like fashion – is one way to do it.

Football shirt design has always been a common conversation amongst fans, but with the 90s fashion trend resurgence and the clamour for a classic kit, fashion has claimed the football shirt for itself.

Google searches for ‘classic football shirt’ are up 32% in the last year, while UK #footballshirt posts have had 17 million views on TikTok in the last 4 months alone.

Fans also want more variety when it comes to representing their clubs through fashion. What was once a choice of three shirts a season is now an entire club shop of clothing and merch, designed for fans of all ages and all genders.

Fans will buy every bit of merch you sell; the more you offer, the more they’ll buy. But, getting the tourists and fashionistas to buy it is what will really help your bank balance and long-term brand growth.

And that is why I won’t be surprised to see more Creative Directors joining clubs over the coming seasons.

Thoughts from Cam Trevena:

As football fans, the club we support becomes an extension of our identity, demonstrated by the proud use of first-person pronouns when recounting our team’s weekend results, or the fact many choose to permanently ink their skin with club insignia.

For most, this passion originates from an intense feeling of local pride, or a longstanding family allegiance handed down to them from previous generations. However, there lies a vast untapped market of individuals who have recently discovered their interest in the sport and are now on the lookout for a team to call their own.

You only have to look across the pond at the growing number of American Premier League fans to see that geography is not the sole determinant in which club these individuals choose to support, but rather, which they feel connect with best.

Here’s where the power of clubs like Crystal Palace comes into play. They understand the importance of tapping into this emotional connection, acknowledging that football is more than just a sport; it’s a way of life and an expression of identity. By embracing cultural references and creating a sense of belonging, clubs can capture the hearts of new and potential fans, transcending geographical limitations.

It’s a testament to the evolving nature of football and its role as a universal language that evokes emotions untouched by any other industry.
An excellent example of this emotional connection can be seen with the brand “Art of Football”, which skillfully bridges the gap between emotional identity and fashion, presenting football-related apparel that goes beyond mere sportswear.

AOF x Lucy Bronze

Through creative designs that capture iconic moments, legendary players, and cherished memories, Art of Football elevates football merchandise into meaningful pieces of art that resonate with fans on a deeper level.

As the football industry continues to evolve, the symbiotic relationship between emotion and fandom will remain a core aspect of its enduring popularity worldwide. Clubs that grasp this concept and embrace it, like Crystal Palace, will continue to attract and retain fans who seek more than just a team to cheer for – they yearn for a sense of belonging and a representation of their own selves.

Yesterday, Crystal Palace announced that it had appointed the Premier League’s very first Creative Director, Kenny Annan-Jonathan. 

Tasked with “overseeing apparel collections and fashion partnerships, starting with the Fall/Winter 2023 collection and products that go beyond typical sports team merch”, it’s a clear power move by the club to build the brand outside of the existing fanbase.

Image via Henry J Kamara for VERSUS

The words “Fall/Winter collection” are enough to make football purists squirm. I don’t even need to go on Twitter/X to know what some of the posts will say. So, what’s the point of a Creative Director when most fans would be happy enough to have a decent Sporting Director in place?

Well, football is and always will be big business, and it’s the business part that’s leading to the industry being at the forefront of innovation in how it engages fans and consumers.

Like it or not, when it comes to The Premier League in particular, non-fan consumers need to be a consideration in a club’s marketing plan. Football tourism means £££, but only for the clubs that position themselves as a brand – something those not in top 6 need to work even harder at. The wider the reach and engagement of these brands, the more money. Simple.

For Crystal Palace, a team that consistently sits near the top of the bottom half of the table, surrounded by ‘big’ London clubs and not expected to make a European run anytime soon, cutting through the noise and making consumers pay attention isn’t easy. So, tapping into other cultural aspects outside of football – like fashion – is one way to do it.

Football shirt design has always been a common conversation amongst fans, but with the 90s fashion trend resurgence and the clamour for a classic kit, fashion has claimed the football shirt for itself.

Google searches for ‘classic football shirt’ are up 32% in the last year, while UK #footballshirt posts have had 17 million views on TikTok in the last 4 months alone.

Fans also want more variety when it comes to representing their clubs through fashion. What was once a choice of three shirts a season is now an entire club shop of clothing and merch, designed for fans of all ages and all genders.

Fans will buy every bit of merch you sell; the more you offer, the more they’ll buy. But, getting the tourists and fashionistas to buy it is what will really help your bank balance and long-term brand growth.

And that is why I won’t be surprised to see more Creative Directors joining clubs over the coming seasons.

Thoughts from Cam Trevena:

As football fans, the club we support becomes an extension of our identity, demonstrated by the proud use of first-person pronouns when recounting our team’s weekend results, or the fact many choose to permanently ink their skin with club insignia.

For most, this passion originates from an intense feeling of local pride, or a longstanding family allegiance handed down to them from previous generations. However, there lies a vast untapped market of individuals who have recently discovered their interest in the sport and are now on the lookout for a team to call their own.

You only have to look across the pond at the growing number of American Premier League fans to see that geography is not the sole determinant in which club these individuals choose to support, but rather, which they feel connect with best.

Here’s where the power of clubs like Crystal Palace comes into play. They understand the importance of tapping into this emotional connection, acknowledging that football is more than just a sport; it’s a way of life and an expression of identity. By embracing cultural references and creating a sense of belonging, clubs can capture the hearts of new and potential fans, transcending geographical limitations.

It’s a testament to the evolving nature of football and its role as a universal language that evokes emotions untouched by any other industry.
An excellent example of this emotional connection can be seen with the brand “Art of Football”, which skillfully bridges the gap between emotional identity and fashion, presenting football-related apparel that goes beyond mere sportswear.

AOF x Lucy Bronze

Through creative designs that capture iconic moments, legendary players, and cherished memories, Art of Football elevates football merchandise into meaningful pieces of art that resonate with fans on a deeper level.

As the football industry continues to evolve, the symbiotic relationship between emotion and fandom will remain a core aspect of its enduring popularity worldwide. Clubs that grasp this concept and embrace it, like Crystal Palace, will continue to attract and retain fans who seek more than just a team to cheer for – they yearn for a sense of belonging and a representation of their own selves.

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