Passionate fans can help game through crisis

MILAN - Football may avoid the worst of the global financial crisis because of the loyalty of supporters and the continued success of club merchandising, a report said on Wednesday. The European Football Merchandising Report, published by consultancy SPORT+MARKT, shows that clubs in the six biggest European top divisions generate a total of 615 million euros ($776 million) annually selling replica shirts and other items. The credit crunch would not eat into these revenues hugely, the report's authors said. "For many, football is a passion -- even more so in economically tough times. We do not expect people to cut back heavily on their passion. They will tighten their belts in other areas," Hartmut Zastrow, executive director of SPORT+MARKT, told Reuters. "Also the fact that merchandise is a popular gift in most European key markets, will deliver strong income in the future. "If sponsors have to withdraw from their engagements to save money, the position of merchandising income will become even more significant for clubs." The report makes sorry reading for Italy's Serie A, however, which ranks fifth in the list, below France's Ligue 1. Each club in Serie A brings in an average of just 3.2 million euros annually from merchandising, with 64 million euros generated in total compared to the English Premier League's 171 million. Spain's Primera Liga is second on the list with 145 million, the 18-team Bundesliga attracts 127 million in merchandising income while Ligue 1 reels in 86 million and the Dutch Eredivisie 22 million. "Italian fans wear less merchandise. In the Netherlands and Germany, lower-priced scarves are highly popular, as well as jerseys," said the report's co-author Peter Rohlmann, executive director of PR Marketing. "Clubs and kit suppliers in England operate a jersey pricing policy which deviates strongly from other leagues."