‘Being innovative is part of Wigan’s tradition’

editorial image

Last week, Wigan invited fans to vote for their kit design next season. Here, marketing director Simon Collinson answers questions about the reaction, the decision to ditch the traditional hoops, and plans for the away shirt...

What’s been the overall reaction to the six designs?

To be honest, in many ways it’s exactly what we were expecting. Every third year when we launch an alternative design the initial reaction is, “Where are the cherry and white hoops?”.

And certainly in the first few hours after the launch we saw the same comments. We’ve also seen a lot of really nice comments from fans thanking us for involving them in the vote, whilst fans of other sports clubs have jumped on this and are now pressing their clubs to do something similar.

In terms of the designs it’s very much a mixed reaction. Before the launch we showed the designs to a small number of staff and players and everyone had a different favourite, and I think the same applies now the designs have been released.

Why have you opened it up to a vote?

Opening up a vote on kit design is something that we’ve wanted to do for a while but it was only through our relationship with Errea that this has been possible – previous suppliers simply couldn’t have delivered a wide range of designs and produce actual samples like we’ve had this year.

You’ve again broken with tradition – what would you say to the fans who think Wigan should always wear Cherry and White hoops? Do you empathise with their view?

The club is defined by more than just Cherry and White hoops; Wigan, more than anyone else has been different and pushed the boundaries throughout history.

Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s Wigan changed the game through their success in the first ever Challenge Cup finals, appointing commercial administrators such as Harry Sunderland and signing players from rugby union. Just think, if Wigan hadn’t broken from tradition and looked to South Wales then Billy Boston would have never played for the club.

In the 1980s and 90s then we wouldn’t have seen full time professionals, cross code challenges against Bath, Wigan win the Middlesex Sevens, or the club travel the world to play Warrington in the USA, the best of Australia in the Sydney Sevens and defeat Brisbane in one of our finest hours.

Many of these moves faced criticism at the time, but as fans we are all proud of what the club has achieved over the years and the fact we have an unparalleled heritage in world sport because of our innovative nature.

Our actions – and doing things differently – define Wigan RLFC as much as the shirts we wear. I do empathise with fans views on the kit but equally we make no apologies for sometimes breaking tradition – at the end of the day doing so has become a tradition in its own right; it’s what we’ve been doing for 144 years.

Is there a financial risk to going against tradition?

This is the third incarnation of the three-year kit cycle and what we have learned over the years is that financially it is a successful model – if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t keep doing it! There are a lot of sports clubs out there who take the safe option year-on-year. Football clubs get slated by fans for launching new home kits with minimal changes from the previous year.

We live in a world where society craves change and fans respond well to kits that are different. In 2011 the much-maligned ‘pink’ shirt was at the time our best-selling shirt ever. In 2014 some fans complained about the shirt being too white; however, it was also a really successful shirt commercially. The knock-on effect is also positive in that it feels like people appreciate traditional designs a little bit more. For example the 2015 hooped Errea shirt received the best reaction I’ve seen in 12 years at the club. It is also important to be clear that this isn’t about profiteering.

Ian (Lenagan, chairman) has been very clear over the years that the club should be self-sustainable and that revenues are reinvested back into the team – whether that be re-signing Sam Tomkins, being able to retain someone like George Williams or investing in developing young talent.

When will replica shirts be on sale?

We know and accept that our shirt launches for the last two seasons haven’t been good enough. They’ve been far too close to Christmas, which has created anxiety and disappointment. Whilst there have been internal reasons for this we make no excuses and we would like to apologise to our fans.

Hopefully the kit vote is the first visible signs of our new merchandise strategy, which at first will fix these problems whilst also engaging with supporters in new ways. As part of this new strategy we are aiming that the new shirts will be launched and on sale by mid-November this year.

What are the plans for the away kit? Will there be a third kit again?

Every year we generally have three kits – home, away and a special shirt.

Fans had been asking for a blue and white away shirt for years but we had never been able to deliver one alongside a cherry and white home shirt because of colour clashes with opposition teams who wear a predominantly white kit.

This year’s third kit allowed us to achieve this, whilst also launching a radical new colour which targeted a very specific demographic of fans.

Again, we recognise that dayglow green isn’t for everyone – that’s the purpose of the traditional home and away kits – but it has proved really popular in terms of sales.

Moving forwards we are still undecided on the colour for our away kit and whether to have an alternative third kit.

Certainly some feedback suggests that fans prefer one-off shirts that have a specific use, such as the World Club Challenge, Magic Weekend or a charity game, but we’ll make that decision over the next few weeks.