What the Huddersfield stunt tells us about the state of the industry

If you’re a football shirt purist, I'm afraid I have some very bad news for you...

What the Huddersfield stunt tells us about the state of the industry

Huddersfield Town ‘announced’ their 2019 home shirt, and then chaos ensued.

Kit launch gimmicks are nothing new (Paolo Di Canio eating pizza in ‘97 anyone?), but recently relegated Town have taken things to another level by getting into bed with the infamous bookmakers Paddy Power, and throwing the rulebook as far away from the window as possible.

paolo di canio 1997
A simpler time. Image from Who Ate all the Pies.

Dominating sponsors are familiar to any shirt fan who follows South American football, or even to a lesser degree leagues closer to home like Ligue 1, but the design of the (fake) Huddersfield 2019/20 shirt completely takes the biscuit. What makes it worse in many ways is that the sponsor itself is a betting firm, and one of the most notorious around at that.

I’ve been fascinated to see the reaction to the joke release today. In many ways it’s been heartening to see that people are sick of the proliferation of gambling sponsors, with this ‘kit’ proving to be a bridge too far. But sadly I would fully expect the kits of even just 5 years time to look more similar to the Huddersfield shirt than we’d like...


Gambling sponsors are fully embedded

Firstly, I was genuinely surprised to see so many people believing we were seeing the actual shirt that Huddersfield would be wearing in the Championship. All the warning signs were there, a sponsor which breaks all the current regulations, the fact Umbro were curiously quiet across all their social channels despite how prolific they were for all other teams, and ultimately seeing that Paddy Power’s name was involved.

The very fact so many people took the bait though says a lot about the proliferation of gambling sponsors in today’s game, and it’s a sad reality.

future betting sponsor selection
Pick your poison. Image from various.

Last year there were enough teams sponsored by gambling companies in the Premier League and Championship to form a separate, 24 team division. Whatever your thoughts on gambling as a whole, it’s clear that we are becoming more and more used to seeing the industry linked with football. Kits of course only tell half the story, but staying on the subject it’s now almost expected that any new sponsorship announcement will have some sort of gambling link attached to it.

We’re reaching saturation point, so much so that almost all of the teams (3 out of 4) in the Championship Play-Offs last year were sponsored by the SAME ONLINE CASINO! The Huddersfield x PP shirt would’ve been the next in a long, depressing line of shirts which are acting more as glorified gambling billboards, an inevitable evolution for an industry which opened the floodgates in the early 00s and never looked back.

I wish we could go back to 90s from an aesthetic point of view. Fiorentina shirts would’ve been undeniably ruined if you replaced 7UP and Nintendo with Magical Vegas and Mansion 88. But in a world where money talks, gambling companies hold all the cards at the moment.

Every club has their price

Despite the presence of bookmakers across every possible strip of advertising space in the football world, there is a very strong argument that the potentially negative impact of their message outweighs any possible financial outlay, no matter how big. Gambling addiction amongst teenagers is a present day crisis, and regardless of how big a role the football industry thinks it is playing, it has a duty to step up and help.

Yet even in this current climate Huddersfield Town have effectively sold their soul in the name of social media awareness and engagement. As @KitCrimes eloquently put, “Everyone’s dignity has a price, it seems, even football clubs flush with parachute payments after relegation.”. Sure, Huddersfield could’ve done with a bit of a PR boost after a relegation campaign for the ages, but to do it in such a shameless way leaves a very bad smell.

A great shirt which for many reasons never sold well. Image from Umbro.

Looking at it from the club’s perspective though, I can understand the decision. It’ll be impossible to measure, but I would be almost certain that sales of the actual kit will now be considerably higher than if the club had gone down the traditional release route. Things will be even better if the real kit is a strong design, and based on Umbro’s success this year I’m confident.

It would also be a genius move to sell replicas of these joke kits as a bonus for kit fanatics looking for the next collectable item to add to their wardrobe. The fact that the 2018/19 Huddersfield Town home shirt is still available for something in the region of £15 speaks to how badly the club could do with some help on the shirt selling front, and all this potential income is on top of what Paddy Power themselves will be paying the club.

Is it a bad look for Huddersfield? Absolutely. But is it on a paper a good move from a financial perspective? I think so, unfortunately.

Foreshadowing

When the dust eventually settles on the events of this morning, we can rest easy that a similar monstrosity will never be seen in English football again… right?

Sadly I would argue that the kits of the future will likely look a lot like the Huddersfield x PP stunt, and that in many ways it’s time to brace ourselves.

For decades Barcelona were a bastion of football shirt purity, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to remember a time when Lionel Messi wasn’t breaking ankles in a shirt sponsored by Qatar Airways or Rakuten. Sleeve sponsors seemed like a novel idea during the early part of this decade, but now every man and his dog is trying to get their name on that expensive section of a Premier League team’s kit.

Stadiums are named after sponsors. Companies are pulling strings above competitions. If we watch football we are being advertised to constantly, and as we become more and more ‘blind’ to the messages we are receiving there will be a demand from clubs to open the door for bigger and better advertising ‘opportunities’.

future football shirt concept designs
Welcome to the future. Image from nss magazine.

In one of my favourite articles of recent months, nss magazine did a case study with a series of top concept designers, asking what the football shirts of the future will look like. There are a number of predictions which I think are spot on, and I would highly recommend the piece.

In short, we can expect to see developments like the breaking of the mould when it comes to sponsors and branding placement, and even designs where multiple sponsors could be incorporated through the use of smart technology. To say it’s a brave new world would be an understatement, and if you’re even the slightest bit a football shirt purist I would argue that this is the beginning of your nightmare.

Personally I think a lot of these changes are quite exciting, but on the flipside it they serve to enhance the messages of gambling companies then my enthusiasm quickly dissipates.


So what are we to think of the trick Paddy Power have tried to pull? Is it just something to dismiss, or something to commend? Whatever your opinion, the very fact that they've been able to pull it says a lot about where we’re at.

I hope that in some miraculous way the tide of betting dominance in the world of football will turn, but if I’m honest I think this is just the beginning.

Grab a brew, and let's talk about subliminal geometric patterns.