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As sports rule the fashion conversation, Classic Football Shirts secures investment and opens first US store

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Doug Bierton knows just about everything there is to know about soccer jerseys. The founder of the nearly 20-year-old Classic Football Shirts, an online marketplace for buying and selling vintage soccer jerseys, could tell you the history behind nearly every one of the 6,500 most-coveted shirts in the company’s vault in Manchester, U.K. At the mention of Samuel Eto’o, for example, Bierton was able to pull one of the player’s jerseys off the rack and describe where and when he got it in less than 30 seconds.

It’s the authenticity that Bierton and his co-founder, Matt Dale, bring to the business that convinced The Chernin Group to invest nearly $40 million in Classic Football Shirts, the company announced on Thursday. Greg Bettinelli, partner at TCG, said he’s been looking to invest in another company that he felt was on the cusp of a breakthrough. Formerly a partner at Upfront Ventures, Bettinelli was an early investor in other resale startups including GOAT and ThredUp.

“We’re interesting in investing in enduring consumer businesses,” Bettinelli said. “We’ve spent a lot of time identifying opportunities at the intersection of sports and fashion, and football is the king of all sports.”

Bierton said Classic Football Shirts has been profitable since its first year of operations, and that “every bit of profit goes into buying more shirts.” Millions of soccer shirts pass through the company’s warehouses every year. It’s grown its social following to over 1 million followers on Instagram and has two stores, in London and Manchester. On Friday, it opened its newest location and first store in the U.S., in NYC’s SoHo.

U.S. customers currently make up just 15% of Classic Football Shirts’ sales, but Bierton is hoping that an upcoming flurry of new soccer-related events in the U.S. will help drive up interest. The World Cup, which will be jointly hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2026, is the biggest one.

“As we build up to 2026, people across the U.S. are getting more engaged with football,” Bierton said. “Celebrities are into it. We’ve done some successful pop-ups in New York, Los Angeles and Miami last year that had lines around the block. There’s a growing audience for football shirts there.”

The U.S. will host a wide variety of soccer tournaments over the next five years. In addition to the World Cup, the Copa America will be in the U.S. later this year, followed by the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025, the Women’s World Cup in 2027 and the Olympics in 2028. Apple spent more than $2 billion last year to obtain the streaming rights for the American Major League Soccer. The MLS got a major boost in viewership once Lionel Messi, one of the most decorated players in the history of the sport, joined Inter Miami in the summer of 2023. More than 2 million people have subscribed to MLS Season Pass to watch games as of this year.

Classic Football Shirts has a different business model than its main competitors, which include eBay and Grailed. It doesn’t take a commission on each sale. Instead, it buys the shirts outright from sellers and then resells them at a profitable markup.

Bierton said the funding from TCG will go primarily toward more retail expansion. Though no further stores have been announced, Bierton said additional U.S. locations in Miami or L.A. are strong possibilities. Classic Football Shirts is also interested in collaborations. It currently has one with the whisky maker Jameson — it features silhouettes of famous soccer jerseys with the Classic Football Shirts logo on the bottle. It’s also created marketing campaigns focused on jerseys. It recently produced a video series with David Beckham reviewing his career through his shirts.

The company gets most of its inventory from customers selling their old shirts, but it also sources directly from teams. It has also collaborated with teams like Parma to create new jerseys.

“We’d like to do more of that,” Bierton said about creating new styles. “It would be great to work with a club and make a shirt for them, and they wear it and hopefully win something.”

As for other expanding to jerseys for other sports, Bierton and Bettinelli made it clear that the company is focused solely on soccer for now.

“You could put any sport between the ‘Classic’ and ‘Shirts’ [in our name], but for now, football is where Doug and Matt’s expertise is,” Bettinelli said. “If the NBA called us tomorrow and said they had a vault full of rare old jerseys to sell, that would be an opportunity to consider. But otherwise, we’re focused on football.”

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