The latest blog from Nick Mernock, Chair of the Everton Fans’ Forum.
Regularly, talking points amongst fans are related to kit and merchandise.
Kit designs are always a hot topic of conversation with supporters – as has proved the case again in recent weeks with the release of our new third kit, even down to the colour of the sponsors’ logo. To answer that one, the colour of the logo is the choice of Chang themselves.
And as for future kit and merchandise designs - we have some exciting news to share with you in this blog.
But, away from the kits, the Fans' Forum has worked hard on behalf of fans to scrutinise the retail operation and also engage directly with the Club's retail partner.
Real progress has been made in that regard in recent months and I was keen to share that progress – and some key learnings we acquired from a recent visit to the UK headquarters of Fanatics.
Fanatics is the biggest online sports retailer in the US and, earlier this year, they acquired Kitbag.
Having the opportunity to visit their headquarters and meet senior figures from Fanatics was, in itself, a key step and a clear indication of the progressive approach being taken by the Club's retail partner since their change of ownership. It was also heartening that Fanatics were as keen to meet the Fans' Forum as we were to sit down with them.
The visit provided a great deal of insight in terms of how the retail operation runs and helped to underpin a lot of the visible improvements that have been seen by supporters in the last 12 months – kits released earlier in the summer, a broader range of kits for female supporters and young children and improvements to the online purchasing process.
The focus of the visit was the retail and merchandising operation and how it has been - and can be - improved for supporters. The actual commercial terms of the Club's agreement with the retail partner is for another day.
The visit provided an intriguing insight. There remains scope for further improvement - a point that Fanatics acknowledged - but after a couple of hours going through historical issues – yes, we mentioned sockgate! - and hopes for the future with Chris and Andy, there were some clear updates that I'm pleased to share with you:
We presented a series of the regularly referenced issues with the online purchasing experience which they have taken on board and committed to providing an update on.
Fanatics took the time out to show us the new ranges for the 16/17 season. While I would not class myself as a member of the fashionista I did think the ranges were a massive improvement on what we have had previously - although they are never going to please everyone.
Fanatics have agreed to engage with fans in the design of future merchandise ranges and that is something we will share more information on in the coming weeks.
They are willing to produce smaller runs of t-shirts and merchandise related to key events – and to also deliver a fan designed range. They have resolved the matter of kit availability at the airport with Everton strips available in Liverpool, Manchester and Gatwick Airports as well as making them available in JD Sports outlets in the North West and the flagship London stores.
We agreed to garner feedback from fans over the 'Nike approach' of a 'stadium shirt' at one pricepoint and a genuine replica at a higher price point. Your feedback on this topic would be welcome. For what it's worth, I think replica kits should remain affordable, so you can work out my thoughts yourself.
We expressed how keen fans are to see a well-stocked Christmas range – and also adequate stock availability to ensure Santa can deliver for any young Evertonian who wants a kit this Christmas. We were given assurances on this.
As for Fanatics themselves, they are a huge organisation. They have contracts with NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and Ryder Cup as well football contracts with Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester City and Manchester United. We are in esteemed company. But the message from Chris and Andy was that Everton are hugely important to them – and moving forward there is real scope to grow the brand globally.
The Fanatics American connection has already started to pay dividends - a fellow forum member who recently went on holiday to the east coast of America saw first-hand the benefits the relationship is having after seeing the Chang emblazoned royal Blue ‘jerseys’ on sale in a well-known American sports chain. As you can see from the image below the new shirt is available in retail stores in America and it wasn't previously. Everton merchandise is sold through Everton USA with the American supporters group the only stateside supporters group with direct access to merchandise and tickets. There is a long way to go in pushing the Everton brand in the key territories but it’s good to see steps are being made.
Having visited their headquarters and had the opportunity to share some fan frustrations and observations with Chris and Andy, one thing is clear – Fanatics have brought a new approach, a new scale and a desire for a higher level of interaction with us, the fans.
Indeed, the last few weeks did provide an example of a situation that proved Fanatics are backing up what they say about listening and reacting. We could have had a hiccup with squad numbers following the changes for 16/17 but we were quickly in contact with Fanatics and there was an equally speedy resolution from them.
In order to maintain that new relationship between the fans and Fanatics, we are keen to continue to hear your thoughts, frustrations or feedback related to retail and merchandise matters. One thing we know – they are listening and they will heed what is said.
So keep us informed and give us your feedback. Email us here firstname.lastname@example.org