A note from Esther McVey: UK company left in limbo by UEFA
Updated: Jun 23
Transport yourself back in time, if you can, to the summer of 2018. Yes, yes, I know, it feels like a lifetime ago. The sun was shining, the beer gardens of public houses were full of revellers, and it felt, for a few weeks at least, that the winning would never stop.
I am, of course, referring to that unforgettable 'World Cup summer' when we all believed that the England football team might finally live up to the hype and expectation surrounding their performance on the pitch. Alas, it was not meant to be, but the country certainly had a new hero. The ever-professional, waist-coat wearing Gareth Southgate had inspired his team, and, the nation as a whole.
As the World Cup came to an end, and the French national team were crowned winners, England football fans, new and old, understandably turned their attention to the next big football competition and began to dream once more.
Football fans weren't alone. Retailers, including many supermarkets, now had an even greater appetite for “the beautiful game,” recognising that any success that the national team might enjoy, could be directly linked to sales and subsequent profits as long as their shelves were stocked with appropriate Euro 2020 merchandise.
Atul Shah is the CEO of the British company, Hy-Pro, a leading outdoor sports manufacturer and the current holder of the much-coveted licence that permits the manufacturing and sale of Euro 2020 branded merchandise, including footballs themselves, to UK retailers. As Atul told me when I spoke to him as part of the latest 'Blue Collar Conversations' podcast series, “When we won the licence for (Euro) 2020 – it was the most incredible feeling.”
The appetite from retailers for Euro 2020 branded merchandise had only grown since 2018, with news that seven of the Euro 2020 games would be played in the UK. This drove demand even higher. Atul duly responded, placing large orders with Chinese manufacturers in the Autumn of 2019, recognising that 2020 was going to be a very important year, not only for his company, but also for large numbers of UK retailers.
The spread of the Coronavirus in China impacted the manufacturing of many of the products that Atul had ordered. However, by the end of February, the Chinese manufacturing industry was back 'on line' and on target to deliver Hy-Pro's order by the end of March. The shipment target date was met, at the very moment it became all too clear that Coronavirus was going to cause major disruption, pain and suffering in the UK, Europe and the rest of the World.
Today, more than half a million, deflated, Euro 2020 branded footballs sit in storage, stacked against the boxes of tens of thousands of other branded pieces of merchandise. UEFA has now confirmed the postponement of the 2020 tournament and the games, like events scheduled at the 2020 Olympics, will be played in 2021. However, and critically, unlike the organisers of the Olympics, UEFA has not confirmed that it will use the 2020 branded merchandise in 2021. This decision, or lack of, has left Atul struggling to manage his relationships with retailers, organise storage for the tonnes of 2020 branded merchandise he currently has in his possession, and handle the cash-flow consequences on his company.
Atul is calling on UEFA to do the same as the organisers of the Olympics have done, and, to whom his company is also supplying branded merchandise. He’s imploring them to keep the 2020 branding for the 2021 competition. If UEFA ditches the 2020 branding in favour of 2021 branded kit, Atul believes that such a decision will have a catastrophic impact on many SMEs in the UEFA supply chain.
Whatever else happens, I urge UEFA to make a decision, and the right one, so that they can move swiftly to save and secure the future of UK businesses like Atul's and avoid the unnecessary waste that a decision to replace perfectly good, brand-new, branded equipment would have on the environment.
To listen to my conversation with Atul, search 'Blue Collar Conversations' wherever you get your podcasts from or CLICK HERE.