England fans can’t afford to be brand snobs at the moment and the RFU should be commended for getting the best deal possible with Umbro. Despite only being announced this week, it’s a good job the contract was likely signed a little while ago as you can almost guarantee it would be less lucrative if it was negotiated in the current coronavirus climate.
I suspect the union thought it was revealing a bit of good news amid the gloom, but I got messages on Twitter calling it “an absolute disgrace” and “bargain bin stuff” to cite just a couple of examples. Clearly, social media is going to attract extreme reactions, but there does seem to be a negative perception of Umbro and a lot of people reacted negatively because of its association with football.
You don’t spend almost 30 years as the England football team’s kit provider if you are a second rate brand and prior to that successful period in football, Umbro did actually support each of the home nations in rugby and also the British and Irish Lions when they won in New Zealand in 1971.
So, Umbro does have rugby heritage and it is also an English company based in Cheadle near Manchester, albeit now owned by an American firm. You’d think that would make many England fans happy. Everyone is going to have their own opinion and we will have to reserve judgement on the new England kit until we actually see it, but you can be absolutely certain that the RFU will have done their due diligence on this and not just taken a punt.
Signing personal deals is a bit different to unions or clubs agreeing kit deals, but there are still similarities and I can remember taking a whole year to transition from adidas to Reebok in my playing career. A bigger offer was put on the table but I had to be sure that I was going to be as comfortable and kick as well in Reebok boots as I was in my existing boots, so I spent a season training in the new ones alongside the old ones in order to make sure it was right.
— Andy Goode (@AndyGoode10) May 5, 2020
I also had an even bigger offer from Gilbert but I just couldn’t get on with their boots at all so I didn’t take it. Clearly, an Umbro shirt as opposed to a Canterbury one isn’t going to affect performance in the same way but the RFU will have seen prototypes and done their homework.
Some form of committee involving a few England players will also almost certainly have been involved in the process to make sure they were satisfied with the standard of playing jerseys and training kit. A picture of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry wearing an Umbro-branded England top was leaked, prompting a flurry of abuse online, but that was almost certainly just training gear and not something to get hot under the collar over.
There are a plethora of kit suppliers involved in rugby nowadays and, as a union or a club, you have to put the contract out to tender and go with the best deal on the table. People tend not to like change but switching kit companies is commonplace. I wore everything from Cotton Traders to Kappa during my career and plenty of people had negative perceptions of some of those brands, but it obviously won’t bother the players one bit or have any bearing on how successful they are on the pitch.
Off the pitch, though, it could have a small impact on how successful the RFU is in the coming four years. Obviously, if kit sales end up being down, they will take a hit but it looks like a very good deal on the face of it. England’s previous deal with Canterbury was said to be worth £5million per year, the same as this contract is reported to be worth, but changing supplier isn’t something teams do just for the sake of it, so it was the most financially viable offer on the table this time around.
The RFU have already said that losses could surpass £100m depending on how the current situation around coronavirus pans out and when rugby returns, so these are vital funds for the grassroots game as well as the England senior team. They can’t win really because people are always saying how the RFU and rugby in general are slow to innovate or change and then when this happens people are up in arms because it’s not traditional and it’s just not rugby.
It will be interesting to see what the new England shirt looks like when it is unveiled, although I suspect white and not too dissimilar to previous ones will be the answer. If I was on the players’ committee, though, I’d definitely be lobbying for a return to a baggier fit with long sleeves and a collar!
Joking aside, where rugby is right now and indeed where the world is right now, £5 million per year for a kit deal is not to be sniffed at. People will have to put their preconceptions to one side.
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