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The richest single game in football could drive a 60% increase in international student admissions

What has football got to do with international student recruitment?  The winner of the Championship play-off final between Huddersfield Town and Reading, the Terriers versus the Royals, gains promotion to the English Premier League and the riches that it brings, some estimates putting it at as much as £200 million.  But it could also bring riches to the University of Huddersfield or the University of Reading.

During the 2014-15 season The Premier League had a global television audience of around 3 billion and an average viewership per game of 12 million, all with a demographic that fits well with those who may consider undergraduate, postgraduate and executive education study.  Just having a name that coincides with a football team in the Premiership offers a massive boost to brand awareness.

Domestically this was brought home to me as I sat on Middlesbrough railway station platform recently.  I was waiting for a train to Newcastle (recently promoted to the Premier League) from Middlesbrough (recently relegated) and via Sunderland (recently relegated).  However, what was unavoidable was the poster from the University of Huddersfield at the entrance to the platform.  That’s really rubbing salt in the wound!

But it’s internationally that there are potentially the greatest benefits?  CarringtonCrisp has worked in more than 30 countries and almost everywhere, be it the Bund in Shanghai, the beach in Bali or over coffee in Bangkok, the conversation has turned to who will win that year’s Premier League.  Discussing global brands on the Bund with two young Chinese students a few years ago, the top three brands in their view were Nokia, David Beckham and Manchester United. After Leicester City won the Premier League in May 2016, De Montfort University in Leicester had a 60% increase in international admissions.

And it’s not just football that offers universities brand awareness opportunities. In cricket, the Indian Premier League last year had an audience of over 1 billion, much of it in South Asia.  With around 60 international players taking part, the opportunity to drive global awareness of university brands is vast.  Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019; the 2015 tournament was watched by almost 500 million people, up 48% compared to four years earlier.

Of course, advertising at sporting events or sponsorship of teams often comes at an enormous cost, but smart social engagement, creating associated content and simply leveraging name awareness can be done for next to nothing.  Rather than running another advertisement in tried and tested media, university marketing departments might be better thinking laterally and looking at the returns that sport could generate for their student admissions.