Game Changer

Ethiopian Clubs Turn Kit Struggles into Profits with Local Manufacturers

One of the problems Ethiopian football has faced for many years is the need for quality kits. Despite football being a popular sport attracting many people to stadiums and keeping plenty of others glued to their TV screens to follow the action, clubs have needed help to get the standard kits for themselves and their fans. Because of this, it wasn’t uncommon to see errors in player numbers, jerseys that don’t have names, and, worst of all, kit clashes due to lack of away and alternate kits. However, this problem has been solved recently. With the emergence of local kit manufacturing brands like Gofere and Wanaw, football clubs have now managed to turn a problem into a profit. EBR’s Dr. Brook Genene assesses how these sports brands have changed the Ethiopian football scene and the atmosphere around the games for the better.

During an Ethiopian Premier League game in the 2021/22 season, a female fan of Wolkite Ketema displayed a unique sign. The sign read, ‘Getaneh our hero I want your jersey’. At the end of the game, the striker, Getaneh Kebede, met the fan and offered her his jersey just like she asked. The fan was emotional while the DSTV cameras zoomed in on her. In other countries, fans receive jerseys from their favourite players every day. But this has yet to be the norm in Ethiopia.

Players don’t offer their jerseys to fans or opposition players who ask for them because of the limited number of available kits. In previous years, clubs didn’t have official kit partners and could not fulfil the demand from players and fans. Players could not exchange jerseys after a game, even at the national team level.

Teams were forced to use similar kits year after year, even when the numbers at the back were no longer visible. There was also the problem of needing away or alternate kits to avoid clashes.

However, in recent years, Ethiopian football clubs have not faced these problems. Thanks to the emergence of local sports brand manufacturers, the clubs now have as many kits as they like. Furthermore, fans can access the kits, filling the stadiums with colourfully dressed fans who add their unique look on match days.

Gofere and Wanaw are two local kit manufacturers who have taken advantage of the apparent problem and offered a solution. These two brands are responsible for the ornately designed kits in the Ethiopian Premier League and lower divisions.

Gofere is a sports brand founded by two friends, Samuel Mekonin and Hassen Mohammed. It sponsors 10 out of the 16 clubs in the Premier League, including the Ethiopian national team. The brand has also managed to infiltrate the East African market by working with clubs in Uganda.

“The launch of Gofere was inspired by the desire to solve the problem of the unavailability of sports kits in Ethiopia. Fans were not able to get the kits of the teams they support. But now the clubs have kits that describe their culture and society, “explains Samuel, the sports brand’s CEO.

Wanaw is a sports kit manufacturer that has been in business for the past couple of years but has established prominence in the game. “The previous supply of kits wasn’t up to the standard. There was also the question of foreign currency, which was a big issue,” states Habte Gebrekristos, founder of Habte Garment, the parent organization of the Wanaw sports brand.

Habte explains that many young people play football and other sports, so the demand for quality sports garments is high. There are also recreational teams nationwide that play football on weekends. Due to the emergence of these local brands, different teams have found their uniforms.

Gofere and Wanaw have signed prominent sports personalities as their brand ambassadors to make their mark in the industry. Gofere has recently signed a three-year contract with Abraham Mebratu, a CAF elite instructor currently working as the sporting director of the Mechal football club. While Selam Zeray also penned a three-year agreement with Wanaw. Selam is the only female out of 15 elite instructors at CAF. She is also the head coach of the Liberian women’s national team.

The agreements these brands made went beyond advertising their products. During the press conferences, it was also stated that these brands are working to fulfil their social responsibility. Wanaw will work on women’s empowerment with different NGO organizations. Gofere, on the other hand, is planning to launch youth projects in the coming years.

Both sports brands stress their desire to reach the African market. Ethiopia can benefit because, continentally, there is a need for more competitive sports brands. The country could get a good market if it targets this opportunity to earn foreign currency. With Sports being a globally profitable market, these brands have identified an area that can lead to massive success.

The global sportswear market was valued at 412.82 billion Dollars in 2022 and is estimated to reach 748.79 billion dollars by 2031. With the right marketing strategy, these sports brands can earn huge profits.

“What makes a good shirt is all opinion, but there are a few things the most popular kits have in common. For a home kit, at least, it needs to be identifiable as yours,” states Louis Ostrowski, an England-based football writer and an avid kit collector. He explains that attention to detail is significant. “Just a simple stripe or a subtle pattern can turn a kit from ‘boring’ to ‘classy, ‘” he says.

Gofere and Wanaw have identified what each club wants in their kit. The clubs picked designs that clearly showed their history and culture. Wearing branded kits helps the fans identify with their team and makes them eager to don one on matchdays.

With Getaneh’s generous response in handing over his jersey, similar pleas have been increasing in the Ethiopian Premier League. While Ethiopian football struggles with off-pitch issues like clubs’ financial problems and the unavailability of stadiums that meet CAF and FIFA standards, the presence of kits has made the spectacle attractive and eased the burden on the clubs.EBR

12th Year • April 2024 • No. 128

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