Paddy Power Threatened Legal Action After Soccer Team Got Cold Feet in Jersey-Branding Stunt

Posted on: September 8, 2019, 02:09h. 

Last updated on: September 8, 2019, 03:58h.

English tier-two soccer team Huddersfield Town told soccer’s governing body in the UK that it was pressured into wearing prohibited outsized logos on its jerseys because Paddy Power threatened legal action if it pulled out of the marketing stunt.

Paddy Power
Elias Kachunga sporting the ludicrous Paddy Power shirt at a Huddersfield Town pre-season friendly game in July. It turned out to be a hoax, but the FA was not amused. (Image: Huddersfield Town)

The Championship club was fined £50,000 ($61,300) by the Football Association (FA) this week because the Paddy Power logo emblazoned across the chests of players in a diagonal slash broke FA regulation C.2(i). This states advertising should consist of one single area on the front of a jersey, not exceeding 250 square centimetres.

Huddersfield sported the monstrous design during a pre-season friendly match against Rochdale in July, having unveiled the new uniforms two days earlier as part of its new sponsorship deal with Paddy Power.

At a time when there is controversy in the UK about the gambling industry’s encroachment into soccer sponsorship, the jerseys caused uproar among fans, were ridiculed on social media, and were even condemned by a senior-level politician.

‘Unsponsorhip’ and Legal Threats

This was the entirely the point, of course. As anyone acquainted with Paddy Power’s penchant for mischievous guerrilla marketing might have guessed, the whole thing was a hoax.

Paddy Power would still be sponsoring the team this season, but the real jersey designs would feature absolutely no branding whatsoever.

It was part of a new Paddy Power campaign called “Save Our Shirt,” which the company described as a “common-sense call for sponsors to stop bastardising football shirts and to return them to the fans,” a process it calls “unsponsoring.”

Huddersfield admitted the charge at an independent regulatory tribunal last month and was warned about its future conduct.

But documents from the tribunal, seen by the BBC this week, reveal that Huddersfield management got the jitters ahead of the match after the FA told them they would face disciplinary action if the team took to the field in the jerseys.

The report shows that Huddersfield tried to pull out of the deal at the last moment, which is when Paddy Power threatened legal action.

Huddersfield chairman Phil Hodgkinson told the FA he had approached the referee, Martin Coy, who he asked to ban the team from wearing the jerseys before the match.

“He said that my decision could then potentially be good publicity and part of the advertising campaign,” Coy said in a witness statement. “I was uncomfortable with this and felt it was not my place to ban the kit [uniform] outright, but I informed them that I would recommend they followed the rules and advice from the FA.”

Aggravating Factor

Paddy Power had told Honkinson that any attempt to back out would be deemed a material breach of the sponsorship agreement.

“In the circumstances, when faced with the threat of serious legal action from the club’s main sponsor, and with no time to seek external legal advice, we felt we had no alternative but to wear the oversized logo in the match,” Hodkinson told the tribunal.

The FA said this week that involving the referee was “wrong and also not an insignificant aggravating factor” and commended Coy for his judgment.

“The decision to enlarge the advertisement in such an overt manner was irresponsible, particularly in the current climate regarding gambling,” the FA added.

Paddy Power has since agreed similar “unsponsorship” deals with Newport County, Motherwell, Macclesfield Town and Southend United.

The company was defiant on social media following the news of the fine, noting that the FA had fined Millwall $10,000 because its supporters had chanted racist slogans, and Huddersfield $50,000 for “wearing a fake shirt in a pre-season friendly.”