Global World Cup fever has turned the most unlikely sports enthusiasts into soccer fanatics. The event’s unusual timing means more consumers are adding the sport’s memorabilia to their holiday wish lists this year — and that has created major opportunity for retailers selling soccer gear and specifically, World Cup and team-focused memorabilia.
For example, Soccer.com has been able to capitalize on consumers’ World Cup obsession and has seen an uptick in specialty items highlighting the event, such as Panini sticker books as well as jerseys representing popular teams including Chelsea and Liverpool. The retailer also seen traction with more typical items not centered on the World Cup, including soccer shoes and cleats.
While the company is familiar with World Cup fever during the summertime, the winter event was different even for this established company that has been in the business since 1984.
“At Soccer.com, we’re fortunate to have been around a bunch of World Cup events and, on a normal cycle, we understand the lead-up and what happens during the event,” said Lance Long, Head of Product Merchandising at Soccer.com in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We knew this year wasn’t going to be the same.”
Soccer.com’s team didn’t deviate too much from its typical World Cup plans, according to Long, but the company did enjoy a few perks from the winter schedule. The timing has been especially beneficial for retailers because it has given them some much-needed buffer time to receive products as they continue to navigate supply chain snarls.
“Vendors deliver products upwards of one to four months before the World Cup and I think the benefit of the winter World Cup is they’ve had one to four months extra to get factories up and running and, in turn, have a better shot at delivering,” said Long. “If we were talking in July instead of December, the supply chain would have been much more difficult. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it’s much better than it would have been during a normal time.”
The Hottest-Selling Products During a Cooler World Cup
Licensing rights, combined with hospitality, ticket sales and “other revenue,” for World Cup organizer FIFA total $140 million and, comprise 15% of the FIFA total 2022 revenue budget of $4.7 billion. The hottest soccer products for this holiday season include:
- Panini sticker books and stickers;
- Jerseys; and
- Footwear that follows the World Cup’s color palette, which includes metallic gold, white and blue.
The popularity of collectible World Cup sticker products from Panini, the more than 60-year-old memorabilia company based in Italy, had dwindled following the 1994 games. However, Long noted that demand for the stickers has been growing again over the last three to four installments of the games and is now “smoking hot.”
“[Panini] really came back and came out earlier than everything else, and that’s really been a winner from the get-go,” explained Long. “However, footwear is the biggest non-Jersey thing that we sell, whether it’s during the holidays or at the peak of soccer season in the middle of peak season is footwear. While it doesn’t get the lift that the jerseys do, [it’s a category] everybody is watching.”
The unusual scheduling of the 2022 World Cup did provide some initial struggles for retailers selling soccer merch and memorabilia. Promotions were initially squeezed due to the games being overshadowed by Major League Baseball’s 2022 World Series, the beginning of the new NBA season and — the U.S. wintertime favorite — American football. After the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicked off on Nov. 20, 2022, however, demand exploded.
“There just wasn’t enough room and bandwidth for the television networks and all the media to push the World Cup, so the timing was certainly different,” said Long. “We had a lot less run up, but when [demand] finally hit, it hit hard — it’s gangbusters right now.”
Preparing for the Post-World Cup Lull
The timing of the World Cup is clearly providing a helpful sales bump this holiday season for retailers like Soccer.com. But Long noted a few caveats. First, retailers have had to balance their World Cup-specific marketing and messaging with more evergreen and seasonal initiatives. That way, consumers don’t feel bombarded with event memorabilia when they may have other wants or needs.
“You’ve got all this World Cup stuff you want to sell but then all the other traditional things that you’d like to sell as well,” he explained. “It’s difficult to tell all the stories at once. There’s only so much real estate and there’s only so much content you can put out.”
Second, sellers of soccer merchandise have had to get an early start on planning their pricing and promotional strategies for January 2023, which will begin a significant “lull period” for the sport — and for the retail industry in general. Long noted that like at the end of the back-to-school season, when many retailers are slashing prices on shoes and book bags, retailers like Soccer.com need to navigate the new dynamics of discounting, especially with the World Cup’s atypical timing.
“January and February are the slowest months in retail,” said Long. “In the summer, you’re out [with soccer goods] in July, but then you have August and September, and the holidays, so when you did get stuck with things — which you inevitably did — you had some time to try to liquidate through that inventory. That will be the trickiest part of using the next three or four really high-demand weeks: trying to move as much as possible and then navigating that really slow first quarter.”
Soccer retailers shouldn’t become too comfortable with the World Cup boon to the 2022 holiday season. Moving the event from a summer schedule to a November-December winter event was due to the high summer temperatures in Qatar.
The 2026 World Cup will return to a summer schedule with Canada, Mexico and the U.S. hosting the games together after winning a joint bid. While the Winter 2022 World Cup created an unusual selling environment, Long noted that retailers can continue to bet on one unwavering trend.
“Fanatical customers are going to buy,” he said. “They’re [always] going to come out every four years.”