ABU DHABI // Manchester City followers keen for a sneak peek at the club's new kit should start by looking in celebrity magazines and on the streets of the team's home city - it is about to be ushered into the public eye by the famous and the fashionable.
The new range, which includes three team strips, will not be officially released until July, but training tops are being distributed to a select few high-profile fans to wear when they are out and about. Noel Gallagher, the lead songwriter of the Manchester band Oasis, was the first to be given one of the new tops manufactured by the sportswear company Umbro. On his blog, he wrote: "Went round to Umbro last night to see Man City's new kits for next season.
"Tell you what, even if we don't win anything next season, we'll be the best-looking team in the league. No question." Another musician to receive the training shirt is Adio Marchant, from the city's band Kid British. A team spokeswoman said the "seeded marketing" was intended to boost pre-release excitement and interest in the shirts. Jeff McCarthy, an associate lecturer in marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, said it was the first time he had heard of an English football club using this kind of kit launch.
"We have seen this kind of launch with fashion brands but I haven't heard of this happening before with a football club," he said. "It will be interesting to see how the fans respond. Will it lead to an increase in sales of the shirts because Noel Gallagher is seen wearing one?" The spokeswoman said the club had not yet decided on the full list of the celebrities to be given the kits, which will have a "retro" look. However, she said the team's players would be the first to wear them.
Umbro's deal with Manchester City, signed last week, will last for 10 years. Three kits will be produced each season, with the first home jerseys going on sale July 18. Last week, the England midfielder Gareth Barry was signed to the club from Aston Villa for Dh70m (US$19m). Together with a lucrative sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways announced in May, it is the latest in a series of new ventures for the club since it was bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed in September.
Regardless of the direct sales of the shirts, Mr McCarthy was confident the strategy would garner publicity for the club. "I am sure it will make headlines and generate some PR, both positive and possibly negative," he said. "I don't expect the fans will be unhappy with the way the shirt is being launched, but it whether it gets good coverage or bad depends on how the media view it. "It seems to me that the club are making a real effort to do something imaginative, a bit different and something that will catch people's attention.
"If it is done the right way, it will create a bit of intrigue about the strip and raise the profile of the club, which should help attract more international supporters." Tapping into the foreign market could help increase revenue through the sale of lucrative television rights to overseas channels. Mr McCarthy added that the Umbro deal also bucked the current trend among sponsors to cut back on spending.
The new agreement is worth nearly four times as much per year as the team's previous deal with the sportswear manufacturer Le Coq Sportif. Kevin Parker, the head of the Manchester City supporters club, gave the idea a cautious welcome. "I am not surprised that they are giving the shirt to people like Noel Gallagher," Mr Parker said. "His support of the club is well known. "But they have to be careful about exactly who they give it to and make sure it is only genuine fans."