18 months ago, the Paddy Power x Huddersfield marketing stunt left fans across the country reeling. To some, the campaign was a brilliant initiative which typified the disruptive, creative approach of Paddy. For others, the experience left something of a sour taste in the mouth, with the club seemingly being taken on something of a ride by yet another gambling firm in football.
Fast forward to 2020/21 and Huddersfield have been making much smaller waves on the shirt front. In reality though, what we’ve seen this year deserves more recognition that the Paddy Power stunt ever received...
Making the most of the situation
Last November Huddersfield Town announced the launch of a new shirt sponsorship scheme that would run through to the end of the 2020/21 campaign. Having failed to secure a primary sponsor for the 2020 season, Town took a creative approach to the ‘problem’ of having no sponsor.
I'm pretty sure @htafc are setting a record across all sports this season.
The club have been supporting a variety of local businesses by featuring their logos as if they were primary shirt sponsors. They've also used the space to support local charities. 👏🏽👏🏽 pic.twitter.com/KxFnBnIDKj
Local businesses were given the chance to have their logo featured as a primary shirt sponsor (subject to FA approval, of course) on a week-to-week basis by way of a match-by-match raffle. Each match had a maximum of 20 raffle entries (with a ticket costing £250+VAT each), though companies were also given the option to buy out all 20 tickets to secure their place as a sponsor.
The profile of the businesses that have got involved has been fascinating to see. A variety of outfits have taken part since the scheme started, from industrial leaders with decades of experience to family-run local enterprises.
I’ve not run the numbers, but I’d hazard a guess that Huddersfield will end the campaign with the highest number of shirt variations we’ve ever seen in a given season across any professional sport. At the very least it reminds me of Atlético Madrid’s famous 2003/04 season, which saw the club’s shirts adorned with various major films as part of a deal with Columbia pictures.
Town's innovative scheme, which involves a raffle to determine which company's logo will feature, has led to a huge amount of shirt variations.
What's more, Town have been offering the companies the match worn shirts to keep, or to auction them off to a charity of their choice! pic.twitter.com/3NAtLiVRvA
On the surface the Huddersfield Town sponsors scheme seems little more than an alternative approach to the typical, financially-driven mindset that naturally surrounds shirt sponsorship. Digging a little deeper though, the scheme is giving back in a number of significant ways.
Following each match, the company whose logo featured on the match shirts are given the option to either keep the match worn shirts, or have them auctioned off to a charity of their choosing.
What’s more, a number of local charities including the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and The Kirkwood hospice have also featured in the place of a sponsor during the season. Another partnership which caught my eye comes courtesy of BPM Tech. The local business, who will be sponsoring Huddersfield's shirts this weekend (5th March), are including the names of 90 key workers inside their logo. As with many of the other shirts in the ongoing scheme, the match worn kits will be auctioned off to raise money for 3 charities in the local area.
Though the Huddersfield Town sponsors model was brought about somewhat out of necessity the scheme has undoubtedly shone a light on the potential to use football shirts, and specifically football shirt ‘sponsors’, for good.
Many big teams have dabbled with the idea of featuring charities on the front of their shirts, with teams like Liverpool and Chelsea tweaking their sponsors for specific matches to highlight the charitable foundations of their primary sponsors at the time.
Manchester United’s deal with Chevrolet is reportedly set to expire at the halfway point of the 2021/22 season, and why shouldn’t they take the opportunity to forfeit a relatively small slice of revenue in exchange for the support of charities and local businesses?
It’s a tall task especially given the lost income from the events of the past 12 months, but despite the relentless tide of commercialism in the game we shouldn’t forget our roots.
Football clubs exist in real towns and cities with real people. Many of those people have been devastated by the pandemic, and even established businesses have found themselves on the brink of collapse. More importantly, charities who were already stretched have never been more needed in the wake of the social devastation around us.
The simple act of a logo on a shirt won’t change those situations overnight, but it would go a long way to showing that a club actually cares about the people and the fans of the area they live in.
It’s wishful thinking to expect clubs to line up to forfeit sponsorship revenue, but if even just one Premier League team went against the grain it would restore my faith in the humanity of football clubs. At the very least, I’m happy to see the positive work that's being done through the Huddersfield Town sponsors scheme.
The fan's perspective
To find out what Town's changing sponsors has looked like from the fan's perspective, I spoke to Brady Frost. Brady helps run the Huddersfield Town podcast And He Takes That Chance.
Q: From the fan's perspective, what have you made of Town's sponsorship scheme this year?
I would say most fans including myself feel that it’s great to see local businesses and charities on the front of the shirt. Yet, the lack of communication and the fact that the club was holding out for someone to pay what they believed it was worth left a bit of a sour taste, it looked like it was a combination of indecision and failure to secure a sponsor, as this decision wasn’t announced until early November, two months into the season.
However this came about, it’s still a great opportunity for the local businesses in the area who wouldn’t have the chance to sponsor a shirt normally - with the sponsorship for a home shirt done by a raffle for every match at the John Smith’s Stadium. The club also encouraged businesses who were successful to have their company on the front of the shirt, to have a few signed by players and auctioned off for a local charity of the business’ choosing.
Q: The club have a long history of supporting local businesses and charities on their shirts. Is this something you've been aware of as a fan?
Definitely, we’ve had ‘Help for Heroes’ shirt, a one off pink shirt for the Huddersfield Town Foundation and had the local college and local businesses before being our main sponsor too. Even though the club was in the Premier League recently, it did feel it was very connected to the community and local businesses, particularly under previous chairman Dean Hoyle.
The chance for local businesses and charities to have sponsored the shirt is a good start and I hope more opportunities like this come up because personally, I feel it’s important that the club engages with the town and independent companies within it, it makes everything feel more connected.
Q: Any personal favourite logos this season?
Magic Rock Brewing, the local brewery was great to see because their tap room is where a lot of Huddersfield Town fans would go for a pre and post-match pint on matchdays, so it just seemed to marry up well and also their logo is great if you’re judging from an aesthetic perspective.
I also enjoyed seeing Kirklees College on the shirt again because they were the club’s front of shirt sponsors for the 2010/11 season and 2011/12 season, the latter where we were promoted to the Championship after winning a dramatic playoff final penalty shootout against Sheffield United, so it brought back great memories and nostalgia.
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