Ian Birtley, Commercial Director at Huddersfield Town, talks to us about the importance of creating pathways for local businesses to grow alongside the football club

Huddersfield Town is slap-bang in the middle of football country. Only 14 miles from Leeds, and 22 miles to Manchester, the club is also within 40 miles of the cities and towns of Sheffield, Blackburn, Burnley, Rotherham, Bolton, Wigan, and Preston.

That’s ten Premier League and EFL Championship clubs, right on Huddersfield Town’s doorstep.

With this level of competition for attention, being able to successfully engage the local community is of vital importance. For Huddersfield Town, it is one of their key values. They are a community club, and proud of it. Not only does this mean sharing values with the local fanbase, but it also means supporting the local business community.

Seeing value in local business

“We are a community-focused club, so engaging the local business community is key to the club’s values,” says Ian Birtley, Huddersfield Town’s Commercial Director. “It’s quite a unique environment where we are, and local businesses have always made up the majority of the clubs’ commercial partners. With that in mind we were keen to maintain a level of partnership that was accessible to local businesses of all sizes.”

Birtley joined Championship side Huddersfield in February 2021, having previously worked at Derby County and Leeds United. He believes that some football clubs don’t get the most out of their local business community, but he sees great value in offering local companies the opportunity to grow alongside the football club. So, Huddersfield Town set about developing a robust and dynamic local partnership strategy that offers businesses the chance to leverage the power of sport.

In August 2021, Huddersfield Town partnered with Eleven Sports Media to help the development of the club’s existing strategy. Now, Eleven works alongside Town to create exciting opportunities for businesses to partner with the club through a Regional Partner Programme.

Creating pathways

The Regional Partner Programme allows local businesses across Huddersfield and Yorkshire the chance to market their brand at the John Smith’s Stadium. Local companies of all sizes benefit from becoming part of a network of like-minded businesses, with a tailored package of rights that support their commercial and marketing objectives. Their brand also gets exposed to 25,000 passionate Terriers fans on matchdays, as well as a wider audience of Huddersfield fans across the world.

“The Eleven partnership suits us really well,” says Birtley. “It means we’ve been able to stretch out our own offering, while utilising our commercial assets in a smarter way across LED boards and digital ribbons, as well as Eleven’s StadiumTV and StatZone platforms. The Regional Partner Programme, which is Eleven’s focus, is the entry level for businesses who want to start a relationship with the club. Above that, our Club Partner and Associate Partner tiers create consistency and aspiration.”

Having three tiers is good for the brands, and good for the football club. Businesses get to test the water before looking to grow their investment into the club, while Town benefit from seeing partner revenue increase year on year.

“Eleven do a fantastic job getting into the local market, and their outreach creates solid business development opportunities for us,” says Birtley. “In my opinion, their expertise is unrivalled in that area. Previously, there was no real growth opportunities or aspiration for local businesses, but the partnership strategy we have created has really changed that, as has working with Eleven.

“It’s unearthed a substantial number of new businesses who see huge value in that business development opportunity, and the potential to grow with us.”

Mutually beneficial

A significant example of a local business moving through the tiers is Huddersfield-based construction company Big Red. Founded in 2016, Big Red has grown rapidly from a small bar fit-out business to working on major construction projects in the north of England.

“As a rapidly growing business, Big Red had been on our radar for a long time, but we hadn’t been able to make meaningful contact with them,” says Birtley. “The Partner Programme with Eleven has allowed us to get them in to the stadium, and get them hooked in and involved.”

At the start of this season, Big Red was named as sponsor of one of the stands at the John Smith’s Stadium. A significant upgrade in investment for Town, and a major coup for a business that is only six years old, it demonstrates perfectly how the club’s local partnership strategy can benefit the objectives of both Town and brands.

“The Programme has certainly opened doors, and allowed local businesses to have that association with Huddersfield Town, and our IP,” says Birtley. “I speak to a lot of regional partners who say they never thought their business could be associated with a Championship football club. By working with Eleven, we have created an accessible partnership opportunity, in which local businesses can elevate their brand alongside the national and global brands usually associated with this level of football.

“On top of that, it’s an effective marketing solution for them, in an environment that’s filled with passionate local people, who are most likely going to be potential customers. The combination of football and business, and the emotional bond between the club and its community, is a huge benefit to all of our partners.”