Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ production about AFC Richmond, a modest London football team that drops to the second division and then reaches the pinnacle of the Premier League under the guidance of a coach who knows nothing about soccer, has generated a fever for greyhounds with a significant impact. Major brands in the sports apparel or video game industry have recognized the opportunity to do business by aligning themselves with a team whose fans feel as if they have been supporting this fictional team their whole lives.
Forums of viewers and film critics consider Ted Lasso concluded after its third season. We won’t provide any spoilers, but the closed and fair ending of the series does feel like a definitive conclusion to the storyline. If it ever returns, the only thing that could revive the plot would be a twist of events designed by Apple TV+, its production company. This wouldn’t be surprising either, as the series has focused more on creating epic moments to foster a sense of belonging to a team rather than on the strictness of its episodes or narrative coherence. And it has convinced millions of viewers worldwide! It’s football, whether it’s fiction or reality doesn’t matter.
During this summer vacation, don’t be surprised if you come across someone wearing the blue and maroon of AFC Richmond and simply smile. Create that telepathic connection with a stranger. Despite its impressive viewing figures, it’s logical to assume that the Coach Lasso team’s jersey is a niche joke within our geekiest circles. And if it also bears the number twenty-four of Sam Obisanya, the excitement among you will explode.
Ted Lasso has managed to create a fan phenomenon that, to draw a close comparison without losing the distinctions, achieved by Tsubasa Ozora and Genzo Wakabayashi (Oliver Atom and Benji Price) back in their time. However, this time, the series has leveraged its timing, the proliferation of social media, the revolution in the world of advertising and marketing to create a transmedia product rarely seen before. The Apple TV+ production has managed to sacrifice plot and narrative coherence in exchange for creating a heartwarming series that is enjoyable for viewers and molds the sports story that every fan of an underdog team dreams of experiencing someday. Everything is good in Richmond. The result of that sense of belonging to a fictional team – despite the evident nods to Crystal Palace – and the blank canvas viewers gave to AFC Richmond from the first episode to do whatever it wanted with us, is that brands have seized the opportunity to compete in the race to place their products in the series.
Product placement, or “I’m like you”
The frenzy around Ted Lasso, which began during the pandemic, reached its peak when LeBron James wore an AFC Richmond hoodie to the sixth game of the series between the Lakers and the Grizzlies. Sponsored by Nike, of course. The American brand sold out all three team products available on its official website: the home jersey (€89.90), the hoodie (€59.99), and the away jersey (€29.99). They were all quickly sold.
The influx of brands that have decided to become part of Richmond and tell their customers that, like them, they are on the greyhounds’ bandwagon, has been overwhelming. Starting from the third season, only Bantr, the fictional dating app that brings together President Rebecca Welton and striker Sam Obisanya, remains unaffected. If we type bantr.com, we find a picture of the Richmond squad. The rest are brands that we can consume.
There are numerous examples of companies that have appeared in the series or have relied on the Ted Lasso team to sell their products. In the latest season, Nike sponsors the team’s jerseys. The Premier League also starts to appear with its official patch on the club’s kits, something that hadn’t happened before. Apple and Ryanair are also involved –I won’t give away any spoilers– as well as clothing brands like Obey, DSQUARED2, and Stone Island. Even the hospitality industry has joined in, as the peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s, which has nearly five hundred restaurants in the UK, launched a campaign featuring the recognizable Richmond players as a sauce you can add to your meals.
In the gaming industry, EA Sports proudly announced the inclusion of AFC Richmond in the latest FIFA 23 as a major selling point. The Electronic Arts subsidiary went the extra mile to create a realistic fan experience and accurately depict the Greyhounds’ stars with the faces of the actors. Just like when we were kids and didn’t mind creating a player in the video game, tweaking their abilities, and believing in ourselves, even if it meant using pre-set and artificial features, the company understood that the same couldn’t happen with Jamie Tartt or Roy Kean. The team, with generously high ratings, can be used in friendly matches, Career Mode, or FIFA Ultimate Team.
The success lies in the commitment
Understanding the Lasso phenomenon involves delving into the lore of the series. AFC Richmond has an official Twitter profile – the ones with the golden sticker – just like the rest of the Premier League clubs, and they behave on social media as a real team would. They create posters for the supposed upcoming matches, share clips of player interviews that didn’t appear in the episodes, and provide additional content about their Greyhounds. Moreover, the other Premier League clubs take them seriously and interact with them. To put the impact into perspective, the club’s Twitter account has nearly half a million followers.
Richmond is the team of the people, the team of adult fans who still harbor childhood dreams of their underdog team winning in the last breath of the game. The sense of belonging to a club that brings few disappointments but the most unlikely and exhilarating joys in the world is complete after just a handful of episodes. Its legend resembles the characters from our childhood who, despite being completely detached from reality, remain our idols. Brands have been able to capture that sentiment that Apple TV+’s production was evoking in viewers and wanted to jump on the commercial opportunities offered by the Lasso wave.
Furthermore, the overwhelmingly positive reception of the series would allow its producers to sell all kinds of products related to the team. From a print with the motto that the locker room clung to in difficult times, “Believe,” to the classic British pint glasses featuring the AFC Richmond crest. The same glasses used by the trio of unwavering fans who never attended a match at the stadium but instead gathered in the team’s pub, filled with beers. How can one not see the reflection of the love for a mediocre team in those visceral fans who would insult and passionately kiss the badge in a matter of seconds?