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Watford net sizeable uplift from Kelme in deal ‘signalling global ambitions’

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Watford’s new kit deal with Kelme – a first for the sportswear company in the Premier League – will land the club a larger fee, more freedom over design and a greater presence in China.

Kelme will pay the Premier League club about £2.5m (€2.8m/$3.0m) per season – plus a £250,000 value-in-kind element – for four seasons, from 2020-21 to 2023-24.

It will be a significant uplift over the club’s current kit supply deal, with German sportswear giant adidas. That deal started in 2017-18 and ends with the 2019-20 campaign. It is worth about £750,000 per year.

Club and brand were initially introduced to each other by William Thomas, founder of sports marketing agency 18K Sports, who had an existing relationship with Kelme China.

The agency, which specialises in working with Chinese and Middle Eastern brands, acted as a broker in the early negotiations. Kelme, while founded in Spain, has been majority-owned by Chinese garment manufacturer Yuanxiang since 2018.

Watford held conversations with three-to-four other sportswear brands, all of whom currently have other deals in the Premier League and were prepared to offer similar financial incentives. Kelme’s commitment to marketing and retail in China was the deciding factor.

Thomas told SportBusiness: ‘‘Finding the right technical partner is a huge asset for any football club. A strong and ambitious technical partner, such as Kelme, can be one of the club’s strongest strategic partners to drive growth in global markets.”

Design freedom and global marketing

Sources say the decision not to renew the adidas association was the club’s.

Watford is understood to have qualms over the standardised designs used by adidas for smaller clubs. Last season, there was a strong resemblance between Watford’s away shirt and that of Polish team Śląsk Wrocław.

SportBusiness understands Kelme will work collaboratively with the club on the design of both the match-worn kit and the training wear.

While the club will lose adidas’s substantial marketing power, it was impressed by Kelme’s presence in specific countries – China in particular. Chinese garment manufacturer Yuanxiang acquired Kelme’s franchise in the country in 2014 and the controlling stake in the company four years later. Sales in China doubled every year from 2014 to 2018, even as Kelme struggled elsewhere.

The brand has about 200 major stores in China and Watford’s kits will be granted significant visibility in these under the agreement. There will also be two of these large-scale stores opening in Spain, with the commitment to promoting the club also extending to this market.

Growing the Watford brand worldwide has been a key goal of the club’s commercial team in recent times. It has increasingly localised its social media – adding official accounts for India and elsewhere – and targeted marketing on the home countries of its players (such as Senegal, home of winger Ismail Saar).

Deals such as the one signed in February with American Airlines have been the result.

Kelme’s ambitions

Kelme retains a presence in Spain’s LaLiga, through kit deals with Espanyol and Alavés, though its domestic heyday was in the 1990s, when it was Real Madrid’s kit supplier.

The company’s Chinese ownership saw the Watford opportunity as a way into a new major market. It also benefits the Chinese business – the Premier League is an enormously popular property in the country.

Because of Kelme’s much smaller portfolio relative to adidas, Watford will be given a have a much more prominent position in its marketing and retail.