It’s that time of year again when we have some fun calculating the range of prices fans pay to get a footballer’s surname printed on the back of their shirt.
For the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 season Jussi Jääskeläinen’ claimed top spot. The West Ham United stopper was the most expensive player due to the diaereses above his name. It cost a Hammer approximately £26 to get ‘Jääskeläinen-22’ printed on their replica shirt (making our simplified cost assumptions). As the goalkeeper was released at the end of last season, a new name features at the top of list for the 2015/2016 season.
Once again, we apply the same cost structure to all names - £4 per number and £1 per letter. All dots, hyphens, accents etc. are considered letters.
At the time of writing Bastian ‘Schweinsteiger’-31, at 14 letters and double digits, tops the list this season. The German midfielder who was recently recruited by Manchester United costs £22. The Norwich striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is second, with 'V.Wolfswinkel'-29 at 13 letters and double digits costing £21. Six players are joint third costing £20 with 12 letters and double digit squad numbers.
All of the 3 lettered names such as Emre ‘Can’ and Jordan ‘Ibe’ have double digit squad numbers, meaning they cost £11. Even though he has 6 as his squad number, Chelsea’s Nathan ‘Aké’ is actually a four lettered name given the accent above the e. You might also be thinking that Sung-Yueng ‘Ki’ of Swansea City might be the cheapest but the South Korean goes as ‘Ki.S.Y’, coming in at £10. Luke 'Shaw' - 3 would have been cheap but the Manchester United defender recently revealed why he opted for 23 this season. The number superstitions are clearly important to players.
While I don’t think the Manchester United hierarchy considered name length when they purchased Bastian Schweinsteiger, this pricey 'Schweinsteiger'-31 stamp will probably be quite lucrative for the Red Devils relative to the cheaper buys. Bargains don’t seem to interest fans too much. Sports Direct released figures last season on player shirt sales showing that Angel di Maria (9.59%), Alexis Sanchez (3.80%) and Diego Costa (2.27%) topped the list for player shirt sales in the English Premier League. Schweinsteiger would definitely satisfy the taste for a superstar name.
While shirtonomics is intended to taken with a pinch of salt, merchandising, image rights and a clubs ability to market their stars has grown in importance. In my view, this will get increasingly significant going forward. From a psychological perspective it's also interesting to think about how fans identify with players and enjoy basking in the reflected glory of a star.
So that’s it for 2015/2016. While a new name tops the list this season, Jan Vennegoor of Hesslink-29 remains the most expensive in EPL history. You still can’t get as good a bargain as Ruel Fox-7, Rob Lee-7, or as a friend recently informed me, David May-4!
If you’re interested in thinking about shirts and numbers further, John Considine has written about how we identify numbers with positions. Stefan Szymanski also refers to the importance of merchandising in chapter 4 of his new book Money and Football - A Soccernomics Guide.