Football kit industry takes shirts back to basics, Sheffield University research finds

A boom in the replica football kit industry over the last two decades has seen clubs returning to more traditional designs, according to new research by Sheffield University.

While most clubs now change their home strips every season, they usually opt for shirts seen as traditional and authentic, following a nostalgia-based marketing strategy which is said to appeal to older fans.

Analysis was carried out by Dr Chris Stride, a statistician from the university’s Institute of Work Psychology.

He said: “Changes to shirts usually consist of minor details, small flashes, collar styles or trim. The innovation in shirts has shifted from design to marketing tactics.

“Flashy, intricate designs have become less common, and plainer shirts with retro stylings or historical references are in vogue.

“Changes in traditional primary colour and patterning of kits, such as the recent decision at Cardiff City, now reversed due to pressure from fans, were never common, but are now exceptionally rare.”

Dr Stride also found simpler traditional designs provided a less intrusive background for the many logos carried by the football shirt, which has become a billboard for multiple brands.

Though replica shirts have been produced since the late 1950s, they were initially marketed only to children, and sold as part of a full playing strip.

Kit designs were also not copyrighted and at times different clubs, such as Derby County and Spurs, wore identical outfits and different manufacturers produced the same designs.

Now sales to adult supporters as leisurewear have created a billion dollar industry, with Manchester United also selling about two million shirts a year.