Meet The Guy Selling Footy Merch For A Club That Doesn’t Exist

I've found my new favourite footy team.

Queensland QLD Football Club Ken Sakata

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‘Queensland Footy Club’ jerseys are selling out everywhere. There’s just one problem…

There’s nothing quite like the sense of belonging that comes with donning a jersey from your favourite team or player that has you yelling at the TV every week. You don’t even need to be that big a fan — sometimes team merchandise is purely a style choice. And sometimes… the team doesn’t even have to be real.

That’s what Melbournian Ken Sakata discovered during his strange journey into sports merchandise birthed from a bit of a menty b. Dr Sakata, who’s a surgeon by day, was redeployed to the frontline during the thick of the pandemic. Balancing his role as a health professional amid the cacophony of public health communications on social media left him feeling a little frazzled — so much so that he created the online persona of someone pursuing a footy career. And he dressed the part. One thing led to another, and here he is.

His unique brand of footy merch gained so much traction online that he even needed to take breaks from his day job as a surgeon to support his business. That business is Queensland Football Club, an imaginary football team with very real merchandise that regularly sells out – especially overseas. Now, thanks to the chaotic alignment between TikTok’s absurdist core-core movement and consumer culture, QFC might just become Australia’s most popular footy club.

We spoke to Ken Sakata about why he thinks his fake footy merch actually works, and how it could shake up the entire manufacturing industry.

Junkee: Why do you think the merch is so successful despite buyers knowing your footy club isn’t real?

Ken Sakata: I think it’s been successful because the way we purchase from brands has …  drastically changed over the last five years.

In my generation, like millennials, there used to be a deep respect for institutions. The legacy brands have been around forever, and therefore they must make good stuff. But that is a narrative and something that we choose to buy into that isn’t necessarily true.

It’s more about demand for transparency [now]. That authenticity registers more as a positive, and that may overcome my inexperience in making clothes. That may overcome the ludicrous nature of my business. 

Is that reflected in your customer base? Is it mostly young people?

It’s all young people, yeah.

One of your more popular TikToks is about the way that certain headlines have explained your business. Why has that frustrated you? 

Because money’s not exciting to me. Money’s essential to run a business, but money is not the reason why I do it. The business would be fundamentally different if the objective was money.

How would it be different? 

I wouldn’t make things in Australia. I would play into the playful nature of the business – how we don’t exist. I would use that as the driving factor to get attention and to sell cheap clothes at a high margin.

I think it’s funny if a fake football club makes the best merchandise in Australia. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.

What is your ultimate goal for ‘Queensland Football Club’?

Not everything is made in Australia; the polyester stuff isn’t made here, it’s made in China. The short term goal is to bring everything here. I would really like to make things here, and I think we can do that by the end of the year.

In terms of the long term… the concerning thing is that the guys that I work with for the hoodies, the crew necks — anything made of a natural fibre — they’re like 60 to 70 years old and they do not have an apprentice. This is the state of our current manufacturing. I may not be able to do it for much longer because these guys are gonna retire, the factory’s gonna close, and that’s gonna be game over.

I hope to be successful enough to hopefully acquire manufacturing on some scale and to enable it to be financially attractive for an apprentice to come in and learn things. To create a second generation would be an amazing long-term goal for us. I say us. [I mean] me.

Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.