Football / World Cup: Shape of new football pitch: Mike Rowbottom reports on the high-powered launch on to the British market of World Cup '94 merchandise

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The Independent Online
THE six ruffed and rosy-cheeked children of the Vansittart family, the last private owners of Bisham Abbey back in the 18th century, smiled down from their family portrait in the 800-year-old Great Hall yesterday upon the official British launch of World Cup '94 merchandise.

Dry ice drifted up to the timbered roof by way of preamble to a light and music show that was straight out of The Word. On came the dancing girls and boys, garbed in the baseball caps and jogging suits and hooded sweatshirts which the organisers trust will become an integral part of what they describe as 'the most significant event in sports history'.

As a total package - to borrow a little marketing-speak - it was almost as incongruous as the idea of holding the World Cup in the United States. What the resident ghost made of it is anybody's guess.

The smile on the face of the Football Association chairman, Bert Millichip, was at least as benign as those of the painted children, although he confessed that he knew little about a marketing exercise which will not directly benefit either the FA or Fifa, the world governing body, even if it was set in motion at England's training headquarters. 'I will be making a report to Fifa,' he said. 'It will be entirely favourable so far as this demonstration is concerned.'

According to Giovanni Tomaselli, the vice-president of the official licensed distributor, Harilela (George) Ltd, the programme offers something a stage beyond energy: synergy. That is, the three principal manufacturers involved in the launch would be approaching retailers in this country and elsewhere with a total package, rather than having them bombarded with 50 different offers from 50 different licensees. The representatives from British high- street stores who were present at yesterday's gathering looked suitably grateful.

Joseph Grant, the president of the Time Warner Sports Merchandising group which has been given the overall licence for the event, estimated that a total figure for sales of World Cup-related merchandise could reasonably be dollars 1bn (about pounds 700m). 'That's a number I'm comfortable with,' he said.

Part of his comfort derives from the fact that the goods are being manufactured at low cost in the East - Hong Kong, China, Korea, Taiwan, India - thus ensuring retailers in Europe and the United States of what Tomaselli describes as 'greater margins'. And greater margins are what it's all about.

(Photograph omitted)