Western Sydney’s true colours

How important is it to give fans a voice? Ask the Wanderers, who are struggling to keep up with demand for their jerseys.

In the short history of the Hyundai A-League, one problem has remained consistent to all those involved - selling the game.

Attendances have risen and fallen, sponsors come and go, millionaires - even billionaires - have dropped in and out but finding a way to get regular fans to spend their hard-earned on football (“investing in the game” might be the corporate way of putting it...) has been a mystery.

But for all the marketing strategies, membership drives, short-term sales schemes and big-name stars, Western Sydney Wanderers seem to have hit on the best way to get fans to buy into the club: ask them what they want.

It-s a novel idea and perhaps one the A-League and FFA as a whole haven-t always recognised. But the Wanderers, a club created at such breakneck speed that the marketers and sales team probably didn-t have a chance to get involved, went to the people they were going to represent and asked for their opinions.

The result? Perhaps the fastest-selling and possibly most popular jersey in the history of the competition.

"It's been absolutely phenomenal," sports store owner Peter Wynn said recently.

"Nothing ever compares to Parramatta's grand final years but this has just come from nowhere. They've given us a huge lift in an otherwise difficult year."

The club originally ordered 10,000 shirts and shifting half would have been a success. As it is, Western Sydney-s red-and-black strip - and the red-and-white away kit - are selling roughly 2000 a month, with Nike struggling to keep up with demand.

Given the club have only been around for six months, the totals obviously don-t yet hold up against other A-League clubs, with Melbourne Victory-s committed fanbase so far leading the pack.

But in a short period of time, Western Sydney football fans have put their money where their mouth is and it-s a vindication of the club-s decision to run open forums that would ensure the new kit would include references to the region-s love of the game.

“The colours were done very much on the basis of the seven fan forums we ran,” Wanderers chief executive Lyall Gorman says.

“And the colours are fundamentally representative of all the associations in the western Sydney region, the partner associations we have, the black red and white represent the linkage and the rich history we-ve inherited.

“The design was a process between Nike and ourselves, and we felt because of that rich history of football in this region - going back to that 14th august 1880 game, Wanderers v King-s School - with the various NSL clubs over the year.

“While the club was new, football wasn-t new at all and we wanted something that represented our eclectic and multicultural market would respect, hence the hoops and the colours.”

The response when the strip was revealed was universally positive, a real football kit, traditional yet modern, and pleasing to the eye.

“This one was interesting because we did it in such a short lead time,” Brant Hirst, pacific sports marketing manager for Nike, tells footballaustralia.com.au.

“We were very involved in it from the word go. The club colours were entirely chosen by the fans in western Sydney, so we took that as part of the brief and then used Nike-s best design and technology to the product.

“We presented three designs, with hoops as an option we thought was aligned with the football community in this country, and we knew that had come through reasonably strongly in the fan forums as well. We had a sense we were on the right track and overwhelming the club and FFA said the hoops were their first choice.”

The club and the sportswear giant are now reaping the rewards at the shopfront and on the stands on matchday.

“Demand has exceeded our expectations,” Hirst says. “We consider it to be one of the most successful kit launches in Australian sport, outside of just football and we-re basing a lot of that on the success from a sales point of view and the continued demand from the fans.

“Anecdotally, we think it-s the most worn jersey at-match. If you compare on broadcast the number of fans that are wearing jerseys and also the number of players at other clubs that we sponsor that are saying they notice the fans are wearing the kit. To hear that sort of feedback you know that you-re doing something right.”

The club are expecting another big order to arrive this week to keep up with the demand. But just as no one expected Tony Popovic-s side to do so well in their debut season, no one expected western Sydney to buy into the club quite as passionately as they have.

“I use the line often that we-re standing on the shoulders of pioneers,” Gorman says. “We-re not the pioneers, we-re standing on their shoulders and we needed something that represented that tradition.

“We-ve seen a couple of examples; Melbourne victory-s membership and merchandise has been remarkable but certainly for a new club, but the love and understanding of the game in this region is fascinating. It-s exceptional within a five-month window.

“When people purchase a jersey they-re saying we-re proud and want to belong and to have developed that pride in such a short time frame is fascinating. We-re very respectful and in awe of it but it just shows the thirst and hunger that was waiting in this region to unite behind one football club.”