Subbuteo World revealed the long-awaited Subbuteo Deluxe rubber-backed pitch to the world and confirmed it is now on sale in the UK.
First announced by Hong Kong-based custodians of the brand Longshore back in 2021, the pitch proved to be a hit with Subbuteo fans and collectors because it can be rolled up and laid down without the use of ironing. Many people suggested it was perfect for beginners to the game, who would not need to iron a pitch to get started, and for clubs who have to carry equipment to a venue.
The idea behind the rubber-backed pitch is excellent and despite silence from Subbuteo itself SubbuteoWorld revealed it is now stocking the pitch in the UK.
But there is a major problem. The new pitch is priced at £80, making it the most expensive new Subbuteo accessory of the past 20 years.
The huge price tag is not the fault of Subbuteo World itself (although often items can be found cheaper on Amazon thanks to their lower overheads) as it is likely the cost to buy from Longshore is prohibitive when it comes to offering it any cheaper.
The issue is with Longshore itself and where exactly they are placing the brand of Subbuteo.
New Subbuteo has been very obviously focused on new, younger players. Toy-like box art, cheap but durable materials and a distinct lack of detail or care in the new box sets and teams hint strongly at a desire to be a more disposable toy for younger players. The adverts place the brand as a legacy name that grandparents might want to introduce to the younger generation.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that, even if I disagree with the decision to place the target market here. If Subbuteo wants to neglect older players and collectors for a new audience then it is entirely reasonable to do so.
But if Subbuteo is targeting younger players then why is the new Deluxe rubber-backed pitch £80?
No child is going to spend more than the latest FIFA title on a Subbuteo pitch. No parent is going to spend that sort of money when the box sets come with a perfectly serviceable pitch.
Here is where the problem lies. Even the collector and players market will not shell out £80 on a pitch. The Extreme Works pitch, widely recognised as the pitch of choice for serious players, can be found for less than £80. Pegasus pitches, sold by Subbuteo World, are cheaper too. You can get Astrobase pitches for less. You can order a bespoke pitch and have it shipped from South Africa by the excellent SA Bases and still have enough left over for a disappointing VAR set.
The pitch might be a great product. It might play nicely, look the part with proper Subbuteo branding and need no ironing or folding to move it around.
It may be the best innovation Subbuteo has made for generations but it still won’t be a success because £80 is just far too expensive. It smacks of seeing the excitement from fans of the brand and then making a conscious decision to try to cash in on those people who have supported the brand for decades while it floundered.
The pitch was not revealed at the Toy Fair alongside new 75th anniversary and Liverpool FC box sets. It wasn’t included in the marketing material for the show or on the University Games website (the UK importer of the brand). In fact right up until it arrived Longshore was denying the pitch would actually be sold in the UK in the near future.
The University Games website, which has been revamped to be aimed only at retail buyers, doesn’t even list the pitch. That means the UK importer for Subbuteo is not even trying to get this product onto shelves in this country.
The fact it then released it via Subbuteo World, a website used by collectors and serious players, suggests this is a product completely separate from ‘new Subbuteo’ and is solely aimed at the older generation of Subbuteo fans.
But why only this? Subbuteo has actively avoided associating with people who support the brand historically. There have been cheap, unreferenced teams but no better quality sets for collectors. There have been no signs they have acknowledged the flatter based table football game and no signs it wants to build quality equipment for those who play more seriously.
It is a baffling decision to ignore a thriving market and then release a single product for that market through the back door and with an eye-watering price tag.
Is it simply because they see community sellers ask for high prices for their products and thought this pitch was a quick and easy profit-turner? I’d like to think not, but if that is the case then the pressure is really on to prove they can make a product that can match the quality and care given to pitches sold by the likes of Extreme Works. Because nothing they have released so far suggests this is the case.
Even the box for the new pitch is white cardboard with a sticker slapped on. Where’s the love? Where’s the design flair? Where is the £80 per item going?
There is always an annoying itch in the back of my head when Subbuteo releases a new product. A form of FOMO about missing out on something official and new and exciting and ‘real’. I’ve bought second-rate box sets for far too much and I’ve snapped up half-hearted VAR sets and winter pitches. But this is one item I won’t be buying.
Instead I’ll turn back to the community and buy my next pitch from one of the brands that creates a product they love for people who love them. An Extreme Works, or an Astrobase, or a Pegasus, or a hand-made pitch from one of the community’s makers and creators. My money would be on any one of those being better and more satisfying.