Credit: Paddy Power

In recent years, football sponsorship and marketing does not just end by securing a shirt deal or deploying a campaign to target a specific demographic. With the rise of social media and fans looking for transparency in the sport, there is an emphasis on brands connecting with football fans in order to gain trust and raise awareness of its products.

Despite the relationship between gambling sponsorships and football weakening in the UK as of late, with tougher restrictions on the type of partnerships clubs and betting companies can have being discussed, Paddy Power has received praise from the football community with its unique activations and clever marketing strategy.

From ‘unsponsoring’ a variety of clubs and creating quirky advertisements with the likes of Jose Mourinho and Peter Crouch, to using social media to develop a fan base, Paddy Power has managed to build a sustained relationship within the football fanbase, with other brands taking inspiration from this approach in a bid to engage with audiences in a new way.

Insider Sport sat down with Lee Price, Paddy Power’s head or PR and mischief, to discuss how brands can build and develop a relationship with the modern football fan.

IS: When delving into the world of football, what are some of the lessons that brands need to understand to tap into its fanbase effectively?
LP: I think you have to know what you’re talking about, you can’t blag a football fan, although many brands attempt to, with beige shit-chat they’ve presumably overheard somewhere.

Then you can chuck in all the other buzzwords: authenticity, punching up, adding value, and so on.

IS: Paddy Power has established its own unique style of promotion towards football fans, do you think that more brands associated with the sport should follow suit?
LP: Well, not really, as then our style might not be so unique! On a serious note, I think football is such a vast, complex, nuanced topic, that there’s room for various approaches.

That many brands seem to cluster together in the same area means there probably is a missed opportunity there.

Paddy Power’s role seems to be calling out the elephant in the room, or making the gag that you would with your mates. It’s not always toe-kissing hero worship of the game’s main players – but we find room for a bit of that now and again, too.

Especially if Ireland threaten to qualify for a tournament. And, yes, I’m only brave enough to say that because I know I won’t be in the Dublin office for a little while.

IS: What do you feel is the most effective way to build a relationship between a company and football fans?
LP: Adding value to their experience. Too many brands just try to replicate what’s already out there – and then wonder why football fans don’t even blink in their direction. If you’re not giving the fan something new – whether that’s a talking point, a laugh, insight into the club, an alternative perspective – then you’re not giving them anything at all.

IS: When looking at sponsoring – or in Paddy Power’s case, ‘unsponsoring’ – football teams, what are some of the factors you consider to ensure that you get the most out of the partnership?
LP: Our partnerships with Huddersfield, Motherwell, and Newport County – amongst others – over the last year have been about doing things differently.

We unsponsored five clubs last season, because even we were bored of seeing bookmakers’ logos on team jerseys – we know our place, and it ain’t on your shirt.

While we reimagined the new normal of cardboard cut-outs to instead install 1,200 ‘silhouette’ fans as part of a partnership with Missing Fans and Motherwell.

For those kinds of activations, we sought partners who want to create something away from the norm.

IS: How do your marketing strategies for football-related campaigns differ to those for other sports?
LP: Alongside horse racing, football is our number one – so we constantly plan and debate ideas around both sports. Whereas, for other sports, it’ll usually be something reactive, and time or occasion specific for us to be getting involved.

IS: Paddy Power has been around since the late 1980’s, how has the firm’s approach to fan engagement within the world of football adapted to ensure that it maintains synonymous with the sport?
LP: Technically, the brand’s roots go back way before then, but I’ll let you off because I can’t be arsed to copy and paste the details from Wikipedia.

I think  the sustained success of Paddy Power has been about remaining true to the brand’s distinctive tone of voice, and unique sense of mischief – which is literally a division in the business.

Even as the company has grown to a global scale, the brand of Paddy Power has been allowed to operate in the same way, which means the reason that people started liking PP is the reason they continue to.

IS: Social media has undoubtedly become a huge source of information for football fans, especially when it comes to a younger demographic. How important has the growth of social media campaigns been for Paddy Power?
LP: Social media is a platform for us to harness the brand’s tone of voice – showcased through the content team’s brilliant videos.

For instance, within days of Soccer Saturday controversially sacking three long-standing pundits, our team were filming a spoof series with the ousted pundits, ready to go out the following week.

I’m sure that the commentary and content provided by our social content team is a key way of PP differentiating from other bookmaker brands.

IS: And finally, any predictions on who may win the Premier League this year?LP: Our traders make Manchester City odds-on favourites – but, then again, that was the case last season. And the year that Leicester won it. So who knows? We’re just glad to have football back in any kind of form at this stage.