Football’s January transfer window has just slammed shut, with European clubs scrabbling to do business before it closed on the last day of the month.
Some star players are now plying their trade for a different team: notable deals include Cristiano Ronaldo’s switch from Manchester United to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr FC and Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk’s move to Chelsea for an eye-watering $108m. In women’s football, England midfielder Jordan Nobbs has scored a high-profile transfer from Arsenal to Aston Villa.
But behind the scenes there is far more for clubs to think about than the safe arrival of their new charges. Not least, how can they maximise the commercial potential of the great unveiling of their star signing to supporters and the wider football world?
Traditionally, the first images of a player being announced are for the press release. It’s effective and quick but not the most impactful approach. The fans want to see their heroes wearing the kit in a match! But how can clubs achieve this when a player hasn’t even stepped on the pitch for them yet?
Creating a more dynamic image can be achieved in multiple ways but this means weighing up more tried and tested methods versus digital techniques - especially when it comes to cost, speed, and logistics.
The pressures of promoting a signing
Time-to-market is a critical metric in terms of unlocking the revenue-generating potential of a new signing as quickly as possible, so that merchandise can be marketed fast and effectively across all relevant consumer-facing channels and touchpoints. The rise of social media has only piled on the pressure as all too quickly the window of opportunity can shift to the next big deal.
Clubs and players aren’t always the only parties involved in the welcome publicity either. For top-level stars, this is a huge marketing opportunity for the sponsors. If a Nike player moves to a Nike club, for instance - such as Mykhailo Mudryk signing for Chelsea - there is a huge marketing opportunity for the brand.
Fortunately, there are a range of techniques to ‘redress’ players in the new kit which allow clubs’ commercial teams to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape.
Redressing techniques take an existing image and repurpose it for a new kit. This can be done for almost any image; not just the press-release photo; it could be a shot of the player in action on the pitch - even before they’ve made their debut.
The dilemma is whether design teams should lean on these tools, revert to the traditional approach of a ‘simple’ photoshoot, or opt for some combination of both.
Weighing up new versus old approaches
Photo shoots offer convenience and a high-level of creative control. However, for key visual-level images they can be expensive, require hours in pre-production for both the creative and planning, and will still require a level of retouch in post-production.
Of course, this presupposes the player’s schedule has allowed them to jet into their new club to attend the photoshoot. And overall, this format takes time - time that in the transfer window clubs do not have.
Redressing by retouching is the tried and tested method to solve this issue. It can be used to update any image - whether the player is shot in a studio or captured at a live match - into any new kit or football boot. It’s quicker, cheaper and offers more creative flexibility .
But times are changing, technology is advancing and this tried-and-tested technique of using retouching for kit updates does have its limitations.
In addition, we are still in many cases limited by the need for physical samples of the kit and boots.
So what’s next?
Bet your shirt on image innovation
The next big thing in this space is game engine-powered fabric simulation workflows. This is the ability to create photorealistic images of fabric and apparel that are created entirely digitally and without photographic capture.
Treating each player’s body as an avatar, digital tools can be used to fit the new kit around any shape, whether the image adopts photoshoot or in-play action style.
This technique is elevated by production of the digital asset to redress the chosen player image as it can then be reused across other channels.
These high-fidelity virtual product samples enable the rapid deployment of credible assets for sell-in to sell-through. They can be used for in-store, range planning and visual merchandising, as well as for e-commerce, social media, AR, point-of-sale, in-game, or out-of-home advertising.
So, while photoshoots might be the traditional approach, digital techniques offer a wider scope and a higher return on investment especially when it comes to time and budget.
While clubs ultimately choose how best to tackle pivotal moments like transfer windows, the latest innovation is on its way. Pretty soon we’ll shift to moving content - and that will be a game changer.