Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’d know that this past week saw the biggest transfer news to ever hit United, only comparable to the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009. United have recently announced the double sale of Donald Love and Paddy McNair to former United boss David Moyes’ Sunderland.
No? Is that not it? Oh, the other one. Right.
The news of the transfer record-breaking return of Paul Pogba shook the football world. It’s not like anyone was surprised, though. The move was the most reported transfer news of the window, with a steady stream of news reports coming in from the start of the window. No, the world-shaking was of course caused by the record-breaking £89 million fee.
Rival fans have not stopped making fun of it, which is amusing because they’re essentially laughing at the fact that United have signed a midfielder any one of theirs, but it is definitely a massive number. But fear not, United fans, because, as the Manchester Evening News’ Alice McKeegan said on her twitter account, as well as many others, United can easily recoup that massive fee from shirt sales!
Except that is not going to happen.
True, United are easily one of the biggest brands in football. As reported by Sky Sports, as of April 2016, United sold the fourth most shirts of all football clubs last season, second only to Chelsea in England. While Pogba is one of the most marketable players in the game, and you can tell by how eagerly adidas, who sponsor both club and player, have advertised the move. Surely the two combined could sell a massive amount of shirts? Well yes, but whatever the outcome, it won’t nearly cover the fee.
First of all, it needs to be cleared up that United don’t get all of the revenue from shirt sales, far from it. Adidas don’t pay the club £75 million for nothing. In fact, the industry standard is for the kit provider to receive 85-90% of all revenue from shirt sales. However, as McKeegan rather confidently pointed out in subsequent tweets, the shirt itself is not the only way clubs earn money from shirt sales, there are also the printing and the badges. So let’s do the maths.
According to United’s online shop, the printing and badges cost an extra £13.61. If we’re being optimistic, and United earn all of that plus 15% of the shirt revenue, that amounts to £23.82 per shirt. Which means, to cover the full £89 million, United would need to sell 3.736.356 Pogba shirts.
But United are one of the biggest clubs in the world, with one of the biggest fanbases of all football clubs, amounting to hundreds of millions all around the world. Surely selling 3.7 million shirts with the name of their record signing would be easy?
Well, again, no.
For one thing, it’s unlikely that the Pogba signing would boost shirt sales too significantly. Many fans who are buying Pogba shirts are doing so as opposed to buying one with another player’s name on the back. They would’ve bought a United shirt anyway, but are now buying one with Pogba on the back. Perhaps a fan was planning to buy a shirt with Anthony Martial’s name on the back but changed his mind after Pogba signed. Pogba’s signing won’t mean tapping into a new market of potential buyers, as the player doesn’t have a large in-built following. This would be different if the player comes from a region with fewer followers of the club to start with, as was the case with Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa.
And then there’s the case of how many shirts United actually sell. With hundreds of millions of followers, 3.7 million shirts seems like a comparably small number, but compare that to United’s shirt sales and it becomes massive. Yes, United sold more shirts than all but three other football clubs last season, but according to the report linked above, they only managed to sell 2.977.000 shirts. That means United would need to equal last season’s shirt sales, and then add another 800.000, just on Pogba shirts. And remember, 3.7 million is a figure based on very optimistic circumstances. The real numbers are a lot worse.
To recoup the money spent for Pogba’s transfer fee from shirt sales, United would, of course, need to sell £89 million worth of Pogba shirts. But United’s figures don’t even come close to that. According to the club’s 2015 annual report, United made just £31.652.000 on “retail, merchandising, apparel & products licensing revenue”, which United would need to nearly triple just on Pogba shirts. Not likely.
So it’s extremely unlikely that United are going to make anywhere near enough money on shirt sales to pay for Pogba’s transfer. So how can the investment on Pogba be worth the extravagant fee paid for him? Simple, on the pitch. Believe it or not, even after all the sponsorship deals agreed in recent years, which require players doing advertising work for these sponsors that is seen by some as taking the focus away from football, like flying fighter jets to fight off aliens, United are still a football club first, not simply a business. In signing Pogba, United didn’t spend all that money in the hopes of making a profit off him, they did it because they wanted the best midfielder they can find. They want success on the pitch, not on the books.