Huddersfield & Paddy Power’s ‘unsponsoring’ campaign could change the future of brand representation forever

The story’s perhaps died down since the summer, but Huddersfield Town’s sponsorship stunt in partnership with Paddy Power was one well thought-out, eye-catching, unique, and executed brilliantly, though perhaps a little too well.

Huddersfield’s plan was to unveil a kit that truly took shirt ‘sponsorship’ to a new level, and that they certainly did. The typical blue and white kit provided by Umbro was butchered by a slab of green that journeyed from corner to corner, with brand logo ‘Paddy Power’ stamped in capitals across the shirt.

It was, in all senses of the word, a very ugly kit. It seemed to strip the shirt of all the club’s identity, with the sponsor taking centre stage. For those who don’t know this (where have you been all this time?) the kit launch was a joke, and led to the unveiling of a completely sponsor-less shirt, with Paddy Power stating that they would be sponsoring Huddersfield by ‘unsponsoring’ them.

At whatever cost that may come with it from the FA, the Paddy Power-Huddersfield partnership may have stumbled across something that’s first and foremost, genius marketing, but also opened discussion on a debate about sponsorship in football that perhaps didn’t get the attention it was due.

Football kits have been riddled with sponsors for the last few years, with big brands and companies seeing these colossal clubs and their following and fanbase as opportunities to sell a product or service. This latest stunt so successfully pulled off by the ‘sash’ kit took matters to the extreme to highlight just how much sponsorship has infiltrated the game.

Sean Jarvis, who spoke to many of us at the SportsPro Fan Conference at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, was heavily involved in the plans to con the world with their designs, and even released comments to the media in support of the famous kit: “We’ve gone for a really modern twist on how we feature the famous Paddy Power logo.

“Paddy Power is a very forward-thinking, innovative company, that’s one of the main reasons that we’re so excited to work with them. The new ‘sash’ style logo is really eye-catching and helps maintain our reputation as being innovators too.”

If those comments didn’t get people worried that this bewildering kit design was here to stay, then the fact the players wore it against Rochdale in a friendly on the 17th July will have cemented the fears of many.

Thankfully though, the real shirt was revealed soon after, and Sean was present at the Fan Conference to discuss the prank, answer questions about it and explain the reasoning that led to such an elaborate kit launch.

It was fascinating to understand how the Commercial Director at Huddersfield Town came to agree on this proposal, convince the few who knew about it to get on board, include the kit manufacturer (Umbro) in proceedings, and then maintain the secret for so long. During a time of hurt in the town post-Premier League relegation, the kit launch will only have dampened moods, which Sean confirmed himself. This risky plan led to death threats and plenty of ‘hate’ towards him as he tried to convincingly justify the new kit plans.

Some media outlets and fans were wise to it, and Sean acknowledged that, but there were many who didn’t have a clue. TalkSPORT, to their credit, didn’t quite fall for the prank when reporting the story, but many did. Whether the story was believed or not is almost besides the point, as this stunt got Huddersfield back in the news and back under a positive light after a dismal second Premier League campaign.

The strategy is what’s most fascinating, and I don’t mean for just Paddy Power, but for Huddersfield as well. The club could have quietly unveiled new shirts, pleased the fans with new merchandise and been on their way. But no, the movement went beyond that, in a direction designed to make fans proud of the club again.

No doubt the collective pride was present anyway having enjoyed two wonderful years in the Premier League, but the relegation will have been disappointing for fans nonetheless. Taking the opportunity to unveil such a bad kit, before relaunching it with no sponsor whatsoever, and looking to set the example for clubs and sponsors going forward towards a world that gives shirts back to the fans, is a movement Huddersfield fans will be undoubtedly proud to witness their club achieve.

From Paddy Power’s perspective, Sean Jarvis summed it perfectly himself. The benefits for the company are that their brand is recognised as one that “understands its place in the world of sport”, and isn’t looking for over-representation, highlighted by their slogan ‘we know our place and it’s not on your shirt’ with the hashtag #saveourshirt. This makes the betting site seem a respectable and trusted brand, an image that is crucial for them to uphold.

This stunt did obviously raise some big questions: has sponsorship on football kits gone too far? Should there be any sponsors at all? Should a betting company ever have a place on a football shirt?

It would take a whole piece in itself to evaluate whether that’s the case, but for now, Sean is delighted with how the stunt has come together (despite being temporarily in the town’s ‘bad books’) and the move from both the club and the sponsor is one that’s earned the respect of many.

Perhaps others will follow suit, as other Paddy Power-sponsored clubs, such as Newport County, Motherwell, Southend and Macclesfield Town have done. They may have set a new standard that other’s have to match, with Hudderfield’s other sponsors also opting to remove their branding from the kit – so with that in mind, have the betting group started a trend?

It will be very interesting to see whether many others follow suit.

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