An Indian Test for Adidas – Cracking the Unofficial Jersey Market

It is right in the heart of Kolkata. Bang opposite the Oberoi hotel, Kolkata’s iconic landmark, you will see an array of shops selling jerseys of almost every team and every player you have possibly heard of. And if you then make your way inside the space, Jersey Market as it is popularly known, you will have a whole range of merchandise to choose from.

“This is original, so it will cost you a couple of hundred rupees more,” someone will tell you. And with 700-800 Rupees, you can lay your hands on the Argentina jersey, which, in an Adidas store would set you back 3000 Rupees or more.

This famous maidan market has been known for sports goods and replica kits for a long time. While the jerseys available in the BK Market cannot be called exact replicas if compared closely by anyone who buys a lot of jerseys on a regular basis, they are still the closest you can get at a fourth of the price.

And now, you have another alternative. With the advent of ‘Instagram shopping’, the market for first copy, master copy and players’-copy jerseys is booming.

You name it, you have it.

The top clubs are no problem. First, second and even third kits are available with the official badges and official fonts, and of course, with top-notch fabric quality.

Even jersey of some of the lesser-known clubs, like Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton, Leeds United and Boca Juniors can also be arranged if any crazy collector wants to have them. With Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Saudi Arabia, Al-Nassr jerseys with and without the No.7 print on back, were the bestsellers for quite a few months.

There are three general qualities of replica jerseys available in the market. The first copy will cost around 600-700 (INR), the master copy will be around 900-1000, and the players’ copy will range between 1300-2000 Rupees. The last is the best quality in terms of fabric. In fact, it is almost impossible to figure out the difference from the original store jerseys.

If someone wants classic jerseys, they too are available. Boca Juniors Maradona edition? Someone will source it for you. Argentina 1986 jersey with Maradona 10 on the back? You can have it. Thierry Henry-Arsenal 14, Zidane-France 10, Messi-19 from the 2006 World Cup, when he started his senior World Cup journey – all can be arranged through these Instagram stores.

Most of these jerseys are imported from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Special-edition jerseys make a killing during big events like the FIFA World Cup, the Euros or Copa America. Currently, with the IPL nearing its climax, RCB, Gujarat Titans, CSK and MI Jerseys are selling well in the counterfeit market.

And that is where the announcement of Adidas as kit partners of the Indian cricket team becomes interesting. While it is excellent for Indian cricket to finally have a world-renowned apparel brand as its kit manufacturer, seven years after Nike ended their deal, one is left to ponder how Adidas will deal with this counterfeit market. Unless it reaches out to the masses, how does it make any profit on its huge investment? And unless there is return on investment, how long can it sustain the deal just on the basis of branding?

The Indian merchandise market has not taken off because none of these apparel-makers have found a way to deal with the counterfeit underbelly. None of them have a way to stop these replica sales at a fourth of the price, and as a result, they all end up losing a lot of money from high-value sponsorship deals.

True to its tagline, “Impossible is Nothing”, Adidas now needs to deal with this challenge both in the offline and online space. If it can, it can be a game-changing deal in the Indian sport-business context. But needless to say, it will be difficult. And unless it is able to get the masses to buy official Indian team jerseys, it can never make money on a multi-million dollar deal.

As we all get ready to watch Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and the boys step out in new Adidas gear on June 7 at The Oval for the WTC final, a different test will also begin for the brand off the field. One that could completely redefine its future in the Indian sports market.  

Also Read: Will Adidas do the ‘Impossible’ with new BCCI kit Deal?

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