THIS WEEK, MOHUN BAGAN LAUNCHED an I-League championship commemorative t-shirt on Amazon India, and the product promptly shot to the number 1 bestseller spot among football jerseys for men, selling out within hours.
A mug was also made available, and it quickly sold out as well.
Having an Indian club dominate the merchandise sales on a big platform like Amazon and being ranked above other top brands like Barcelona, Chelsea, Argentina and Brazil is a rare occurence. Due to Mohun Bagan's large fanbase, it was expected that they would sell well; but he quick cleansweep took many by surprise, including some top officials of the Mohun Bagan club.
When TFG contacted Mohun Bagan financial secretary Debashish Dutta regarding the matter, he didn't hide his pleasure,
"This is the first time we are selling official merchandise online. We didn't expect it to become a bestseller instantly, being above Barcelona and everyone else. We knew the response would be good, but something this good was unexpected. All thanks to the Mohun Bagan supporters... earlier a batch sold out in three hours. On Wednesday, it sold out again in just one hour. Right now Amazon is running after us, because they didn't see it flying off the shelf in just one hour like this. So we have put in orders for making more t-shirts to meet the demand."
The products were launched without much fanfare due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; a quick social media post had shared a link for purchase. Soon, enthusiastic fans emptied the stocks.
The club's General Secretary Srinjoy Bose, in the past, expressed skepticism about official merchandise in the past. When Mohun Bagan won the league in 2014-15, the club launched a similar line of commemmoraitive t-shirts. The products, however, were not available online for retail purchase, and offline sale wasn't streamlined either. The product performed below expectations.
This time, however, Mr Bose told TFG that he wasn't surprised by the response on Amazon,
"There was a lot of demand for the championship merchandise. We were trying to launch offline merchandise sales for quite a while but due to the current situation we couldn't. After we won the I-League, we didn't get a chance to celebrate properly. So this was a good opportunity to commemorate it. We were confident, and definitely the response has been very good. Our fans liked the effort, that's what is important."
Asked whether the club wanted to expand the merchandise operation, Mr Bose said,
"It will take time to get this going on a normal basis. But definitely, Mohun Bagan club's merchandise will remain available to fans. An offline store is also in our plans, but I don't think it will happen in the next five-six months. Only when the situation returns to normal we can start selling offline. But given the great response we've got in Amazon, we'll have to take a call on whether an offline store will confuse the setup."
As for selling merchandise on Amazon, Mr Dutta assured that it would continue with more products coming,
"We do plan to diversify this. This championship t-shirt will have a limited run, then we'll bring in other products. Our brand is now registered with Amazon. It took us a month to get it done; registering the brand, opening up accounts. Now that it's all set up, there's no issues any more. Our contracts are in place, merchandise will be available on Amazon long term."
With the first few batches selling out first, the products have been unavailable for a day. Asked how many more t-shirts would be put on sale, Mr Bose said,
"If necessary we'll put in multiple fresh printing orders... if we have demand, thirty thousand or fifty thousand doesn't matter, we'll provide."
Even though Mohun Bagan have set up an official store on Amazon, the site still lists multiple products made by third parties that bear the club's logo. Offline, too, counterfeit jerseys of the club are sold in high numbers in the Maidaan market and near the stadium on matchdays. Mr Dutta said that the club was aware of these operations,
"We have already served a legal notice to Amazon. They are taking steps about those products. As for the counterfeits in the Maidaan market, they happen on a lower scale. Going around shutting them down with police is a tough thing to pull off. Already the volume has gone down there; you'll notice these days many of them write 'Mariners' or something like that, not Mohun Bagan directly. A little bit of this will go on, I think. See, they'll sell their stuff for 50 rupees; that's not something we can do with the official merchandise. There are some who will not spend 600 rupees on a shirt, they'll go for those."
When Mr Srinjoy Bose was asked by TFG about the proliferation of unofficial merchandise, he said it was a complex issue for Mohun Bagan,
"I have a request to make to our numerous fan clubs. Today, a number of them are selling some sort of merchandise. Yes, the club didn't push its official merchandise all this time, I agree. But shouldn't the fan clubs, who are using the club's logo in their merchandise, share a certain percentage of the revenue with the club? Even on Amazon I have seen masks and other items with the Mohun Bagan emblem. Some have even claimed to be official. This is cheating, basically, isn't it? I am certain that they love the club deeply. But don't some of them have the goodwill to say that we're using the club's logo so we should give some royalty to the club? Let's say it's one paisa per piece, just as an example. But it's the initiative that's important."
Asked what the club would do to stop this practice, he said,
"A lot of fans have pointed those out to me, they said, why don't you complain to the police? I told them, look, at the end of the day, this is being done by Mohun Bagan supporters. They love the club. But they are earning money using the club's logo, shouldn't they think about what's the right thing to do? My hope is some day they'll come around."
He was, however, quick to point out the difference between fan-sold merchandise and the Maidaan market fakes,
"Look, the counterfeit product issue is a completely different matter. It's very different from a few fans selling some merchandise. Every product in the world has counterfeits. Even Nike gets counterfeited."
A growing concern in the wake of the successful merchandise launch among Mohun Bagan fans is that if the new football team's logo is significantly altered, they may no longer have a chance to buy official products with their favourite club's emblem on it. Mr Debashish Dutta said that the club's merchandise is different from the football team's merchandise,
"See, this is for the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club. This has nothing to do with that. The new company will come up with their own merchandising and those will be available too... there's no issues with that. The club will not do any of the football team's merchandise. That's up to the new company. But of course we can sell club merchandise on our own."
The issue of the football team's logo is a sensitive topic among Mohun Bagan fans, who have been vocal online saying that no changes should be made to the team's logo. When asked to respond to the fan's demand for protecting the logo, Mr Bose was quick in his retort,
"The Mohun Bagan club logo has always been protected. Do you think we needed a few thousand t-shirts being sold on Amazon to understand whether the Mohun Bagan logo has value? Are you saying we didn't understand all this before?"
There has been wide-ranging speculations about what the new logo for the football team will look like; with many rumours suggesting that a winged tiger may be added to the familiar Mohun Bagan boat-and-sail crest. Mr Bose, however, wasn't worried about any potential changes and talked about the necessity of the club's deal with RPSG,
"See, the Mohun Bagan football team's logo has changed multiple times in the past; a certain improvisation has always been there. No one made a big deal out of it then. Let me ask you this, if East Bengal played in ISL and we didn't, what would you say? I hear some East Bengal supporters saying Mohun Bagan has sold out. I want to ask them, were Ajit Isaac's parents the siblings of Nitu or Kalyan Majumdar or something? Didn't they sell 70%? And then why couldn't they keep their investor? Listen, when you are outside, it's very easy to criticise. The grass always seems greener on the other side. In the past, people would make fun of people who stayed at home a lot. Now that we're in this situation, everyone is feeling what it's like to stay inside all the time. Let's just move forward, everything will be all right."
Asked about the same, Mr Debashish Dutta advised the fans against getting too worried,
"Look, there's no use sweating over it. Trust me, Sanjeev Goenka understands much more than both of us. He is a great businessman and he is from Calcutta, he knows the sentiment. And he knows why he is spending money on Mohun Bagan; for the brand and the supporters. Without those two, where's the value in Mohun Bagan?"
When TFG asked him if he expected a winged tiger to be added to the traditional Mohun Bagan logo,
"This is not the time to talk about that. When the meeting is over and everything is revealed, we'll address the matter."
Pressed about his own stance on whether the logo should be significantly altered, Mr Dutta said,
"That I won't discuss here, we'll talk officially at the right place."
The board meeting where the football team's logo and jersey colours will be officially decided is expected to take place within the next week or two; and it's unclear whether the enthusiasm the fans have displayed about the club's logo will have any impact on the decision that gets made there.
But for the Mohun Bagan fans, there's a key takeaway: even if the football team's merchandise does not bear the unaltered Mohun Bagan logo, the club's official merchandise on Amazon and elsewhere will still give them a chance to support the club and its traditional marks that have been celebrated by generations of Mariners for well over a century.