If anyone was watching the Shanghai Sharks’ final home games of the 2012/13 season against Liaoning, you probably have been impressed by the smooth, sleek blue jerseys that the Sharks have been wearing. However, the trouble is, despite boasting such a magnificent new uniform, there have only been a few people with actual access to them throughout the entire schedule- namely the Shanghai Sharks playing roster themselves.
Okay, that’s not strictly true. One Sharks fan owns a current jersey but only after Gilbert Arenas threw it into the crowd after Shanghai beat Bayi on the road in Ningbo but that’s it. As a result, the Shanghai Sharks, owned by Yao Ming, a team that has won a CBA championship and been to a further two finals have gone an entire season with no-one being able to wear their current jersey other than the players themselves.
The jersey issue is a strange one. It also reflects both the problems involved in running a CBA team but also how Li-Ning, the league’s new uniform maker has seemed poorly prepared to provide merchandise for the general public despite spending two-million RMB to get the deal done.
The Yuanshen, like almost every sporting arena in China is controlled and owned by the state, invariably at local government level. The team that plays there typically can sell merchandise from within the arena to their fans but this season, due to a dispute between the team and the people who control the Yuanshen, the latter informed the organisation at the start of the season that no Sharks merchandise could be sold on the premise.
Its difficult to find out the exact cause for the dispute but the end result has been that since November, the only store open in the Yuanshen on game nights is selling badminton equipment. The lost revenue is difficult to assess but it would be safe to say that the jersey of Gilbert Arenas, one of the league’s biggest names, would have sold out night after night. That the Sharks, less than four years removed from almost going out of business due to bankruptcy, could allow themselves to miss out on such a cash cow is astounding.
The next problem lies with Li-Ning, whose website had previously claimed that all Sharks sizes over an ‘M’ (so basically a small child) have sold out (total rubbish). Now, you can’t even find the jerseys online (try it for yourself). As someone who covers the Sharks on a game-to-game basis, there has not been a single sighting of the 2012/13 jersey. Unless the Sharks’ entire online supply has been bought up by uniform collectors from outside of the city- which is about as likely as Yao being able to fit into one those those kid’s uniforms- one might come to the conclusion that Li-Ning are making up stories to save face.
This situation becomes even more ridiculous when one considers Li-Ning’s aggressive stance towards brand exclusivity. With players having to cover up the logos on their shoes and arena staff being sent down from the stands to put masking tape over coaches’ jackets so as to conceal Nike swooshes and the like, you’d think Li-Ning would be aware of the consequences of not providing enough merchandise. Instead, at every Shanghai home game, when cameras start filming the fans, what are they wearing? Nike, Addias, Reebok, Anta (the old league’s previous sponsor)- basically everything other than Li-Ning and the 2012/13 Sharks jersey.
In the grand scheme of things, jerseys and their availability (or lack thereof) don’t change the course of 10-22 season but it does further dampen the passion of a fanbase who saw their season ticket prices go up across the board last October only to be greeted with the worst season in the current thirty-two game regular season.
When more people at a Sharks game are wearing the uniforms of Shanghai Shenhua (the city’s biggest soccer team) then the Sharks’ current jersey, you know there’s a problem. It makes the team look amateurish and for a organisation that hasn’t had a sell-out game all year (even the visits of Tracy McGrady’s Qingdao Eagles, Yi Jianlian’s Guangdong Tigers and Stephon Marbury’s Beijing Ducks couldn’t fill the Yuanshen), that’s got to change quickly if you want to bring the crowds back for next season.