Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Don't have an account?
Error Message

Vintage Football Jerseys: A Collector's Golden Goal?

Vintage Football Jerseys: A Collector's Golden Goal?
May 22, 2024
Dylan Dittrich

This article was featured in our newsletter, Alts & Ends. Click here to subscribe for free and receive the best collectible market insights straight to your inbox on a weekly basis!

The European football season is coming to a close. Manchester City won a fourth straight Premier League title, Real Madrid is marching towards another Champions League victory, and in just a few short months, they’ll prepare to do it all over again. Sometimes in football, it seems like the only things that change are the kits. 

As is tradition, clubs have begun to reveal their new kits for the season ahead, soon relegating this year’s edition to clearance sales. But this summer’s bargain-buy could become a $500 prize years down the road. Unbeknownst to many, vintage football jerseys - even the replicas - have become a globally popular collectible category. 

Those unaware here in the United States might soon familiarize themselves ahead of the 2026 World Cup. At least that’s part of the thesis fueling The Chernin Group’s $38.5 million investment in Classic Football Shirts, a UK-based seller of all varieties of vintage football jerseys. While the company may be lesser known to residents of the US, it's a staple in England, generating nearly $24 million in revenue in the 12 months ending June 30, 2022. Those figures grew from humble beginnings in 2006 when the company started with maxed-out credit cards and a goal of selling ten shirts daily. That meager daily volume has now grown to 2,000 - 2,500 shirts.

So why football jerseys? And what drives their value?

Unlike in American sports, clubs release a new set of jerseys every season. That practice has obvious commercial appeal for the clubs, who can reliably sell new jerseys to the same customers annually. It also ensures that less popular jerseys subject fans to only one year of pain; meanwhile, Broncos fans are stuck with their newly released atrocities for seasons to come, and the Patriots continue to look like a franchise built in Madden Create-A-Team, with uniforms as devoid of appeal as the offensive roster.

From a collectability standpoint though, a potent, nostalgic association with a specific season is more important than any of these factors. Fans can vividly picture the jersey on a player's back when he scored that pivotal goal. Those images are burned indelibly into our memories for a lifetime, and owning the jersey becomes a physical expression of that memory. In that way, nostalgia can be a significant driver of demand, as it is in many other collectible categories. 

There's more to demand for football jerseys than nostalgia alone. Consider a few factors:

Usage. Not surprisingly, a market hierarchy exists relating to usage, ranging from game-worn at the top to match-issued to simple replicas available in retail settings. While the worn items are most valuable, it’s the retail jerseys that comprise the vast majority of shirts sold. 

Club. The size of a club’s following and its global appeal matter; generally, a Real Madrid jersey will attract more demand than a Gillingham jersey. But greater size can also mean greater production…

Season. The associated season contributes incremental value - a jersey from the “Galacticos” Madrid era of Ronaldo, Zidane, and Roberto Carlos cultivates a stronger nostalgic pull than a less memorable and less trophy-laden era.

But it’s not just about on-pitch success and global clout. Last, but not least....

Aesthetics. Because football jerseys sit at a unique intersection of streetwear and nostalgia, pure aesthetics play a role. Some jerseys are iconic and valuable simply because they look incredible, with bonus points awarded for memorable and likable sponsors. Look no further than the Nintendo or 7-Up-sponsored Fiorentina kits of the ‘90s.  The club hasn’t won the Italian league since the 1960s, but collectors still dearly covet those jerseys, which command more than $500 when authentic versions surface.

As with other markets, demand is just one component shaping values. For a jersey to be valuable, it has to be both desirable and scarce. Time does most of the heavy lifting for those jerseys of the ‘80s and ‘90s, with most jerseys worn into deterioration, leaving behind scant supply in strong condition. Naturally, the population of mint jerseys from vintage eras is smaller than the population of those exhibiting greater wear. Another variable is the inclusion of a player’s name on the back. Some players are inextricably linked with a certain season’s jersey, but the supply of specific player jerseys is generally lower than the mass-produced plain versions. 

Among more modern jerseys, lower production of popular designs can fail to satiate demand. Lower production can result from a few factors. Manufacturers may produce away or third kits in lower quantities than primary, home kits. Alternatively, a club or nation might not be globally popular enough to merit significant production runs. But when a design is well received, as Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup shirt was, the scarcity of the jersey quickly becomes a story, further increasing the desirability. 

Few are better attuned to the forces of supply and demand that shape the vintage football jersey market than the team at Classic Football Shirts. Though the company is not the sole player in a popular space, with others such as Cult Kits offering competition, it has enjoyed significant success, achieving profitability each year since its inception. While the football shirt category shares some common ground with the sneaker market, Classic Football Shirts is no StockX or GOAT. Like those players, the company brought retail familiarity to a secondary market good, while also serving as an arbiter of authenticity in a market full of fakes and reissues. 

But StockX and GOAT are peer-to-peer marketplaces that allow sellers to set prices and buyers to submit bids. Classic Football Shirts purchases jerseys directly from sellers before offering them at a markup - a more traditional retail model in an untraditional category. In finance terms, the company is less broker and more dealer. 

Inventory management, then, is crucial. Marketing the right products to the right audiences in the right moments unlocks greater profit. But not all product leaves the CFS inventory as quickly as it arrives. The company, knowing the market as it does and understanding collectible market tailwinds, holds a Manchester-based vault of true rarities, many match-worn. While the company uses some of those jerseys for marketing and PR, in a world where Maradona and Messi jerseys command millions, it's not hard to imagine there are handsome gains embedded in its collection. 

If this market is to mature and grow as sneakers did, it will require change. At present, the incumbent competitors essentially treat every jersey as a wholly unique, 1-of-1 item. There's merit to that approach, particularly with vintage items, and it makes sense in a physical retail environment (CFS currently has two such locations, plus a new NYC pop-up). Perhaps that's the vision, with more physical locations said to be an objective of the investment funding. But in the world of e-commerce, it scales poorly. Consumers must wade through a messy and complicated landscape of product listings in hopes of finding their grail. It's a perpetual scavenger hunt with no assurance of reward.  

The massive unlock for StockX in sneakers was the single product page. On one page, collectors could find all the listings in every size for a specific sneaker, along with relevant sales data for market insight. Importantly, they could favorite that page and receive notifications when new offers were posted, ensuring they wouldn't miss out. This setup removed significant friction from the market, enabling participants to transact more efficiently and with greater confidence.

Organization and data are noticeably absent from the vintage football jersey market, as are more universal standards of condition and authenticity. Classic Football Shirts authenticates the shirt, assesses the condition, and sets the price. That do-it-all approach demands a lot of trust from consumers, particularly when pricing data is limited. Whether the market can sustain third-party authenticators and graders or intermediary marketplaces remains to be seen, as does the potential appeal to a StockX or authenticators in other categories. 

Though collectors in the United States tried to express a thesis on global and obsessive soccer culture through cards over the last few years, it seems an obvious fixture of the match-going public was an attractive alternative all along. One thing is clear: by the time this season's jerseys enter the "vintage" category, the market for football jerseys will have changed dramatically.

Enjoyed this article? Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive more like it in your inbox weekly!

Disclaimer: You understand that by reading Altan Insights, you are not receiving financial advice. No content published here constitutes a recommendation that any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. You further understand that the author(s) are not advising you personally concerning the nature, potential, value or suitability of any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy. You alone are solely responsible for determining whether an investment, security or strategy, or any other product or service, is appropriate or suitable for you based on your investment objectives and personal financial situation. Please speak with a financial advisor to understand if the risks inherent in trading are appropriate for you. Trade at your own risk.

Altanin post bacgraund

Latest News