While many may lament the prominence of the so-called 'big six' in the English Premier League (EPL), it pales next to the 'big-four' kit sponsors of Adidas, Nike, Puma and Umbro who are reported to have manufactured kits for an average of 77% of EPL teams over the previous five seasons. 

However, more challenger brands are beginning to break into the market. This includes established sports brands such as New Balance, Hummel and Macron as well as Castore - a Manchester-headquartered premium sportswear manufacturer who have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past few weeks. 

Castore have grown rapidly since their inception in 2015 and have been significantly increasing their professional kit supply presence in the past few years with tie-ins across the sporting spectrum including Red Bull Racing, England & Wales Cricket and Saracens Rugby Club, but it is their kits in the football sphere which have attracted the most attention. 

It was seen as a major coup when they announced a kit supply deal with Aston Villa for the 22/23 EPL season (to add to existing deals with Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers) but they have received criticism for the quality of the kits they have supplied this season with particular focus on the wearability of kits with some Aston Villa players suggesting that the kits are weighing them down and impacting on performance. 

It is rumoured that Aston Villa are exploring their options in relation to their new kit and may look to cut short their three-year deal with Castore - something Newcastle United have reportedly done themselves (with the original Castore contract being replaced with a new deal with Adidas from the 2024/25 season). A key element of any decision taken by Aston Villa will be the content of their own contract with Castore. 

 Key contractual considerations are likely to include:

  • Supplier Obligations: What are the contractual and statutory standards required from Castore in relation to the supply of kit? Have they been breached? Did Aston Villa have an approval right over the kit?
  • Replacement: Can Aston Villa require Castore to supply a replacement kit which remedies the identified issues? Who will bear the cost of the replacement? How will this impact on replica strips purchased by fans?
  • Termination Rights: What are Aston Villa’s contractual termination rights? Is there a break clause and, if so, is there an associated termination payment? 

Ultimately, the solution is likely to be a commercial one but, as ever, the relative strength of each parties' bargaining position is likely to be influenced by their contractual position. This is another reminder of the importance of a well drafted contract which provides certainty and anticipates future problems.