Wednesday 29 March 2017

'They won't wear normal clothes!'

It's de rigueur for children these days to own an array of sports jerseys, in fact they rarely wear anything else

SPORTS jerseys have become the most desirable item of clothing in our kids' wardrobes. Pulling on the Dublin GAA jersey, the Irish rugby team's green shirt or Messi's Barcelona kit is the seriously cool fashion choice nowadays.

Their parent's generation may have lusted after leg warmers and paisley shirts but for today's sports-mad kids, replica tops are where it's at.

So what's the allure of these gaudily coloured acrylic jerseys? Well it's all about being one of the gang, displaying pride in your team, emulating your adult heroes and they're also rumoured to improve pulling power!

But replica jerseys come with a hefty price tag. Is the cost of these tops taking the shirt off parents' backs as they attempt to stump up for their kids fashion choices?

Mum-of-three and Leinster rugby supporter Fiona Slevin and husband Michael must wonder whether they are offering a laundry service for sports teams due to the amount of jerseys going through the washing machine thanks to their children: Seán (11), Niamh (eight) and Jennifer (seven).

"Seán is the really sporty one. He plays soccer, hurling, Gaelic football and does athletics. The only thing he doesn't play is rugby, but he supports Leinster. The girls are into camogie, tennis and swimming," says Fiona.

"He has the Dublin GAA jersey, his club Kilmacud Crokes jersey and he also has tops from Leitrim and Tipperary GAA because his dad and granddad hail from those counties. Other ones he owns include the Leinster rugby jersey, Irish international rugby jersey and also the Arsenal one.

"The girls are not as much into the jerseys -- they'd have Leinster t-shirts and love their Leinster scarves."

While Fiona's girls prefer the accessories to the jerseys, all the top sports stockists we spoke to say there's a strong demand from girls for jerseys as well. So it's not just a boy thing.

What about the pressure to buy the newest jersey on the market? "We are really lucky because we don't feel the pressure to have the latest kit. Up to the age of nine they don't know the difference between the official and unofficial gear. You'd be in trouble if you had to buy them all."

So as they get older and more savvy will they only accept the official gear? "I would think so. If they get something that is not official they just won't wear it."

To keep costs of official jerseys down Fiona keeps an eye out on sales.

"For Leinster there's the home jersey, the away jersey, the Heineken cup jersey. Seán has the home gear. I think the peer pressure thing depends on where you go to school as well. In Blackrock College, for example, you'd notice they'd have the latest gear," she adds.

We asked Leinster Rugby about their kids' jerseys. "The children's jerseys costs €45 and they are very popular at home and especially with our overseas supporters, as far away as Japan and Argentina," says Leinster spokesman Peter Breen.

The club has made efforts to help consumers to save money. "We have kept our jersey prices the same for the past three years, and also the last price change was a decrease. We only change our home jersey every two years, with new additions to the range each year," he added.

Leinster is keen to keep parents and youngsters onside because they make up a large proportion of its support base. Fifty-five per cent of its season-ticket holders are parents and 20pc of supporters are under the age of 25.

With official tops being so pricey parents have some top tips to keep costs down. "The jerseys change often. When they're about to change you can get the old ones half price in Elverys. Also I know Penneys used to do a Leinster top," says Fiona.

She also has issues with the costs of her son's GAA tops. "They seem to be very expensive. I don't understand how they charge so much for them when the GAA are non-professional. I can understand soccer jerseys being pricey because they have to pay Wayne Rooney's salary."

Because of the cost Fiona limits the jerseys to special occasions. "He gets them as gifts, for birthdays and Christmas, because they're expensive -- around €45. They also lose them so I have to put nametags and phone numbers on them but they still go missing!"

Problem

Another major problem for mum-of-three Fiona is how to get young Seán in particular out of his sports tops at all.

"It's really hard to get him to wear normal clothes like to go to Mass. I think you have to be cognisant of where you are. You can't always be in sports gear."

On the topic, 11-year-old Seán says: "I like wearing jerseys because I am used to wearing them. My Leitrim jersey is my favourite because nobody else has one."

We contacted the GAA for comment about replica pricing and they referred us to O'Neills who have the contract for producing inter-county jerseys.

"In general the jerseys retail for €30 for infants, €40 for kids, youths €50 and adults €60. These prices are retail prices which give a margin to the respective retailers," says Cormac Farrell, the business/marketing manager with O'Neills.

What this means is that despite the fact the GAA are a voluntary organisation, the jerseys are full commercial price, in line with soccer and rugby tops.

Why are prices so high for a voluntary organisation? "Retail prices, where possible, are kept competitive in a very price-conscious market. All replicas are manufactured in Ireland where labour costs are quite high."

Fans aren't deterred by the high prices though. O'Neills said that Dublin's appearance in the All-Ireland final resulted in a significant boost to sales at the end of the season.

One factor which brings up the price of replica jerseys is the VAT rate. There is no VAT on children's clothes until the age of 14. At this age clothes attracts a VAT rate of 21pc and thus a higher retail price.

Cork-based mum-of-two Mary Houston can see the effect of the higher jersey prices because one of her sports-mad sons has turned 14. She lives in Blackrock in Cork city with husband Paul and two boys, Shane (14) and Cian (11)

Shane is rugby mad. "It's rugby mainly. He trains three days a week so doesn't have time for other sports. He supports Munster, Ireland and his local rugby club, Cork Constitution. "He also supports Barcelona and his little brother Cian supports Liverpool and of course they have the jerseys," says Mary.

Shane has a vast range of rugby tops. "My children don't wear jeans -- it's all jerseys and tracksuits in this house. The jerseys would include Munster, Connacht, Samoa, Wales, Ospreys, Harlequins, London Irish, Stade Francais as well as the Irish team jersey."

The strips change frequently. "Jerseys change every season. They are really expensive and can be up to €75. They manage to get them every season but this can be through birthday and Christmas presents," Mary adds.

Mary has a range of tips for getting official jerseys cheaper.

"It's sometimes cheaper to get them through the Munster supporters' club. As part of the membership pack they get vouchers and there are discounts on the jerseys. Also www.rugbystore.co.uk -- they have some bargain-basement jerseys."

As the kids get older they try to source their own gear, and at a lower price.

"Shane would get his training tops on the internet. Because he's training three days a week he goes through a lot of jerseys. He was looking online recently at the teams that have been knocked out of the World Cup -- all the tops of those teams were half price."

Mary doesn't think there's that much pressure to buy the latest tops but there are certain ones that are a big hit in the teen disco!

"There's no peer pressure for the latest gear but if he's heading out to the disco he might put on his Stade Francais top!" she says.

Stade Francais are a famously flamboyant French team who have avant garde designs and sometimes opt for pink tops.

Sports jerseys may be expensive to buy initially but they usually pass the all-important parental durability test.

"They are really easy to wash, are durable and easy to dry. They grow out of them as opposed to be being worn out. They wear them all the time. It's difficult to get them out of the jerseys," adds Mary.

What about the boys themselves? Cian (11), who's in fifth class in Beaumont boys' school in Cork city, says: "I like Munster and Cork Con. It's really fun to play and a big gang of my friends go to the club. My favourite jersey is the Munster jersey, because it's my favourite team, and my Ireland hoodie. My mam says she can't get it off me to wash it.

Camaraderie

For 14-year-old Shane the jersey is just a small part of the camaraderie provided by playing with a club. "I meet up with my friends three days a week. Cork Con is the local team and it's nice to be able to be a part of that."

We asked the Munster rugby team about their pricing structure for under-age replica jerseys. "They are very popular items. The baby kit (home jersey, shorts and socks) is €37, the age one to five years (home jersey and shorts) is €40 and it's €51 for age six upwards," said spokesman Glyn Billinghurst.

With such stiff prices in recession times what are Munster doing to help consumers? "We look to offer value for money especially for the baby kit and shirt-and-shorts combo," he adds.

Do they ever get parents complaining about the price? "Generally our customers or supporters feel that the junior kit reflects well against the adult shirt, especially the mini-kit." However, in the current economic climate they have gotten some flak over the price of new kits.

"Our ticketing prices for families this year have been reduced so that they are very competitive," adds Glynn.

Mary Houston says there's been a very definite shift in what shirts are most in demand.

"The Irish gear is as desirable as international gear now and that pride is a great thing," she adds.

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