Dave Hughes, Senior Account Director, Sports + Partnership Marketing at Hill + Knowlton Strategies gives his views on what might be next in the Paddy Power Huddersfield Town shirt sponsorship story…
FIRST HALF – “WHAT ARE PADDY POWER DOING? THEY’RE HAVING A MARE!”
On Monday morning, Paddy Power revealed they’d entered into a shirt sponsorship deal with Sky Bet Championship side, Huddersfield Town. They did this via one of their spoof videos on social media and in typical Paddy humour, they belittle the club, making a mockery of the ‘small’ football club they’ve chosen to work with, “Are you sure it’s not Man City?!”. An odd start, even by Paddy standards, but one that is typical of their style. The industry looks on and waits to see what’s next. The Huddersfield Town fans laugh if they’re into the ‘banter’, or if they aren’t, question why a betting brand is making fun out of the thing they love most.
The relentless involvement of betting companies in football and the scrutiny they’re under is perhaps what makes the activity, at first, less palatable for many than if it were a brand from another category. Is Huddersfield’s compliance with Paddy Power and their big idea a stark reminder of the how reliant football clubs are on income from gambling brands? Or are Huddersfield enjoying the fame that Paddy Power will bring them in a season when there’ll be less of a national spotlight on the club following their departure from the Premier League?
The big shock (or not) of the week came on Wednesday morning, when Huddersfield Town revealed their new kit, which includes a Paddy Power sash and their name splashed right across the front of the shirt. It looks dreadful. Fans are up in arms, industry colleagues are discussing whether it’s real or not (those who’ve worked with football rights holders know it’s not real due to FA size dimension guidelines!), but even though a stunt is coming, is it worth it? How do fans who aren’t quite in the mood for stunts following relegation from the Premier League feel? What do Umbro think? Is nothing sacred anymore in football?
The comments in the office come thick and fast “should sponsors be baiting fans on something as emotive as a new kit launch?”, “for me, it’s quite sad to see a club so desperate for the money that they’d comply with stuff like this”. Everyone on Twitter is still talking. Is it real? It can’t be real? The club are playing in the shirt in their pre-season friendly at Rochdale on Wednesday evening! That must mean it’s real?! Meanwhile, as fans debate the situation, Paddy Power direct media to their statement:
"We're delighted to work with Huddersfield Town on this bold new kit design," it said. "As a brand which embraces doing things differently, we didn't want to get into shirt sponsorship just to do the same as everyone else. We feel the diagonal design will be the most distinctive sponsor logo in the Football League - appropriate for the most distinctive sponsor there is. "We're sure Huddersfield fans will be delighted with this season's kit."
The second half beckons, how are Paddy going to redeem themselves? Is the damage already done?
SECOND HALF – “ARE PADDY POWER ABOUT TO CHANGE THE GAME IN SHIRT SPONSORSHIP?”
New legislation which will come into place this season means that ‘whistle to whistle’, betting brands aren’t allowed to advertise on TV, a voluntary agreement from many brands following political pressure about the amount of betting advertising on TV. But if you’re a betting brand appearing on the front of a shirt, you’re still advertising whistle to whistle on television. Many believe that for the legislation to be truly effective, it should also include shirt sponsorship (as well as league and digital advertising around the pitch).
So, whilst fans may be up in arms, are Paddy Power one step ahead here? Are they about to go one further by going over and above on the legislation? It seems that way. If rumours are to be believed, Paddy Power are set to reveal they will in fact forego their front of shirt inventory and allow the Huddersfield shirt to be ‘clean’ and without their brand splashed across the front this season. The holy grail for football fans; the sponsorless shirt. In a world where nearly 60% of clubs in England's top two divisions have gambling companies adorning the front of shirts and who rely on the media value that the eyeballs watching live football on TV bring, Paddy’s rumoured move would be a refreshing one (albeit one that has delivered significant PR value).
So whilst Paddy Power have been seen to belittle the club with their activity, should we welcome the honest approach in favour of the usual “we are proud to sponsor Club X” when the reality is those betting brands are simply looking to grow awareness of their brand (OPE Sports, Huddersfield’s previous betting partner anyone? I’m sure they were ‘proud’ but ultimately done very little for fans other than slapped their logo on the front of the shirt)?
Whether Paddy Power’s second half performance makes up for the first half negativity is yet to be seen, but as usual, they’ve done what they do best; made mischief and got people talking. Whether that’s enough to satisfy the most important people in all of this, Huddersfield Town fans, remains to be seen. But they might just be the ones stealing a march on their competitors when it comes to legislative changes.