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Umbro

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Sportswear

With the new football season about to begin in South Africa, sports manufacturer Umbro is entering its busiest time of the year. We spoke to director Donovan Bell to find out how the company focus on local flavour is paying off.

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ince its beginnings in Manchester back in 1924, Umbro has been steadily building its name as a leading manufacturer of sporting goods. This reputation has spread around the globe, including to South Africa, where the brand has been maintaining an active presence for the past two decades. “The Umbro model is a licensed model,” explains Bell. The license to distribute in South Africa as been active for 25 years. Umbro is 91 years old, so for a third of that time, Umbro have been active here. Under the current license holder, we have been operational for the past 7 years.” Bell joined Umbro in 2011 after a sixteen-year career in the financial services industry. Since then, he has seen the company evolve and adapt, taking on new sponsorship deals and establishing its position at the core of the South African football scene. In 2013, Nike sold Umbro to Iconix Brand Group for $225 million (R2.7 billion rand), which according to Bell, afforded the regional branches a little more freedom to add local flavour to their products and image. “On a local level we’ve grown a lot in terms of staff number, as the business has grown itself,” he tells us. “The key to Umbro’s longevity is the fact that we’re allowed to tailor the brand locally, but still stay in line and adhere to the corporate image and branding guidelines.” Umbro’s preferred strategy for breaking into local markets is to partner with a prominent club from the area, and use that link to gain exposure and increase brand awareness within the fan base and local community. “We target quite aggressively to sign local teams to wear the brand,” he explains. “For example, locally we have Maritzburg United and AmaTuks — and it’s those sorts of popular teams that speak to the local market. We make sure we do that in every country we are represented in. So in Botswana, in Zimbabwe,

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in Zambia, teams are wearing Umbro products manufactured specifically for them.” While the products may be manufactured for the local market, they are not entirely different to those used by the European teams. “The Premier League for example is a higher profile, so it’s aspirational,” says Bell. “Most of the teams in Africa see what they’re wearing in Europe, and want to look like them.” With football season about to start in South Africa, Umbro has recently announced their latest signings. In addition to European clubs like PSV Eindhoven and West Ham United, several African clubs have signed sponsorship deals with Umbro.

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We’ve also got our brand ambassadors, which is a big focus for us. A brand ambassador is always a footballer, and is always wearing our boots. We’ve got some of the best players in the country, like Sifiso Myeni at Orlando Pirates and Cuthbert Malajila at Mamelodi Sundowns, wearing our products

“We’ve recently welcomed Free State Stars Football Club, back into the fold. They’ve been away from us for two or three seasons, but they’ve come back,” he says. “We’ve also re-signed a team called Township Rollers in Botswana. That’s the biggest team in Botswana. They’ve got a huge following.” With a population of only 2.5 million people to South Africa’s 50 million, the market in Botswana may not be large, but, Bell says, “having the largest profile team there still means a lot to our brand.” In Africa, Umbro works strictly within the football industry, but as not all countries have their seasons at the same time, the company is busy all year round. The brand has licensing for all


Sportswear

We target quite aggressively to sign local teams to wear the brand. We make sure we do that in every country we are represented in of Southern Africa and some of the West and East African countries, all of which come under Umbro South Africa. “In South Africa we run August to May like our European counterparts, but for example in Zambia, their season starts in about February and finishes in October,” he says. “We’re a football-focused business. When other brands go off to cricket, rugby and basketball, we stay focused on football.”

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boots. We’ve got some of the best players in the country, like Sifiso Myeni at Orlando Pirates and Cuthbert Malajila at Mamelodi Sundowns, wearing our products.” “If the young folks see that those footballers are wearing our products, it becomes aspirational and drives a request at retail, which is a rapidly growing market for us at Umbro.” “So it’s quite crazy at the moment, getting ready for the new season. On top of that, we’re also looking to expand further into Africa and partner with even more teams. That way we can drive the demand for our products and our brand at retail.”

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With South Africa’s pre-season starting in the next couple of weeks, Umbro is under a lot of pressure to deliver their sponsor teams’ new clothing in time. “The club administrators are eager to get their products. They like to prepare early so the products are there when the teams arrive,” explains Bell. “We’ve also got our brand ambassadors, which is a big focus for us. A brand ambassador is always a footballer, and is always wearing our

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Umbro SA 1 BP Road, Montague Gardens, Cape Town - 7441 Telephone: +27 (0) 21 551 6496 Email: admin@umbro.co.za

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