When an English soccer club is promoted into the red-hot competition of the English Premier League, it enjoys great riches, but also some sporting and commercial challenges it may never have faced before.
Huddersfield Town, promoted this season, are a case in point. Back in the top flight for the first time since 1971, the club had to think carefully about how to prepare for their debut in the modern era of the Premier League. As well as figuring out how to compete on the pitch, they also had some tough commercial decisions to make.
With many of the team’s matches now beamed to a huge domestic and international TV audience, the club needed to improve their camera-facing media assets, thereby maximizing the opportunity to harness new revenue from sponsors and advertisers.
Marc Mitchell, Huddersfield Town’s commercial manager, advertising and events, takes up the story. “As we didn’t get promoted until we beat Reading in the Championship play-off final on 29 May, we weren’t able to start making investment decisions until the last minute,” says Mitchell. “We knew we needed to get the stadium ready for the new season, with a new commercial strategy to match, but we didn’t have much time – only two and a half months until our first home game against Newcastle.”
The club needed quick advice and action, so it turned to the stadium technology and marketing specialists Stadia Solutions. The Stadia Solutions team discussed the different options open to the club, knowing that it needed a higher quality LED system to meet the Premier League’s and Uefa’s technical requirements. Huddersfield could rent a system, buy second hand, or invest in new technology of their own.
In the end, they decided to buy their own, going for a solution that fully maximized the business opportunity ahead, while also boosting the engagement of the clubs’ loyal fans and long-standing commercial partners.
Best system in the league
The answer was the acquisition of a Techfront P8 pixel pitchside LED ribbon – the highest definition system currently in use in the Premier League. Stadia Solutions was able to source this state of the art equipment at a highly competitive price, and advised Huddersfield to invest in a mid-tier LED ribbon at the same time – making their John Smith’s Stadium one of only a few in the Premier League to have this technology.
James Cook, commercial director of Stadia Solutions, says the mid-tier ribbon plays a particularly key role, especially for a newly promoted club. “We saw an opportunity for Huddersfield Town to use the mid-tier ribbon with its loyal and local commercial partners,” he says. “Many of these have supported the club for years. The mid-tier ribbon enables the club to continue to secure local commercial partnerships and provide great exposure both at ground level and mid-tier LED.”
Mitchell agrees: “The pitch-side LED can command significant rates within the PL with a lot of the allocation being taken by league / shirt sponsorship deals, which can mean the remaining inventory comes at a high premium. The mid-tier is a fantastic way to provide our strong local partnerships with a great platform for exposure into their target areas.
“Our ‘Huddersfield Hundred’ are an integral part of our club and Commercial strategy and we want to keep them on board – it’s not in the character of this club to cast long-term backers aside just when we get promotion. So, the mid-tier LED made great business sense.”
Fan-power for home fixtures
And the mid-tier is not just a way for the club to stay close to loyal advertisers. It also builds the club’s bonds with its passionately loyal fans. Fan engagement is increasingly important for all football clubs, and for a team like Huddersfield, it is particularly important at home matches.
“Home form is key for us – we absolutely need the fans 100 per cent behind us as we aim to secure as many points as we can,” adds Mitchell. “The mid-tier helps us build the atmosphere and get the fans fired up. With good home form so far this season – including our astonishing 2-1 victory over Manchester United – the tactic seems to be working!”
Cook says the same benefits of fan engagement and local advertiser outreach persuaded another newly promoted club, Brighton & Hove Albion, to adopt the same mid-tier approach, combined with pitch side LED for top-level advertisers. Stadia Solutions also worked on the Brighton install and has helped Premier League rivals West Bromwich Albion and the Championship’s Sheffield Wednesday with new stadium technology, both on and off the pitch, for this season.
“James and the team gave us the ideal solution for our needs, turned around in super-quick time.” Marc concludes. “They understood we couldn’t act until we knew we were going up, but once we did, they swung into action and put us in a great position to make the most of our first Premier League season.”
James Cook is commercial director for international sports marketing agency and media consultancy Stadia Solutions.