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Sports & Fitness Paddy Power Marketing

I flew on Paddy Power’s private jet to the Euros. Here’s what little I remember


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

July 10, 2024 | 10 min read

The Irish bookmaker took a gaggle of prize-winning England fans on a private jet to Germany to watch their country slither past Serbia. Scottish opinion editor John McCarthy accompanied them and is now obliged to pretend this is a piece about fan experience for our Sports & Fitness Focus.

Paddy P

Paddy Power's head of brand marketing James O'Reilly and The Drum's intrepid John McCarthy en route to the Euros

Over the years, Dublin-based Paddy Power has skillfully deployed guerrilla marketing during large football tournaments such as the Euros and the World Cup to gain ground on its UK competition. From convincing Nicklas Bendtner to wear and bare branded pants at the Euros in 2012 (I now own a pair, comfy) to pretending to burn down a rainforest in 2014 (it was to raise awareness, OK?), the brand became impossible to ignore – even if some might have wanted to.

Not all of its schemes have been popular. And this summer, the brand that was previously happy to court attention at any cost found itself in the unusual position of being accused of going ‘woke’ by GB News after abandoning a Euros ad campaign featuring former prime minister Boris Johnson due to a supposed staff backlash.

So that’s what it didn’t do. Here’s what it did. And it’s a journey that starts at the empty, humble home of Leyton Orient FC and ends with the Irish bookie, a Scottish journalist and a gaggle of giddy England fans joining 62,000 others in the spectacular Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen at Euro 2024.

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Having binned Boris, Paddy Power’s Euro 2024 campaign featured the much safer hands of national treasures Danny Dyer and Peter Crouch, introducing the imaginatively titled ‘Danny Dyer and Peter Crouch star in Paddy Power’s new Euros advert.’ As one of his brand ambassadorial duties, telly hard-man Dyer invited fans to a penalty shoot-out competition where £5,000 cash, a trip to Germany and coveted tickets to England v Serbia were up for grabs.

Said penalty shootout, streamed live from London’s Gaughan Group Stadium, or Brisbane Road for the purists, attracted some real ballers. Thankfully, my place on the private jet wasn’t contingent on slotting one past a 6.5” slenderman. As a member of the media, I was extended an invitation presumably on the basis that I’d generate some worthwhile content in return. You can be the judge of that.

We were instructed to arrive at Stansted Airport’s private terminal at 8am sharp wearing our favorite football strip. So the morning after seeing Scotland smashed 5-1 by Germany from my vantage point at Stansted’s Premier Inn, I was relieved to remember that I hadn’t packed my Tartan Army tat but had brought my Celtic shirt instead. It would have been a smarter move to feign Englishness to endear myself to my new traveling companions, but I’m not one to make smarter moves.

After making it to the private enclosure where, days later, Taylor Swift’s jet would be sprayed orange by climate protesters, I got stuck into overly sausagey sausage sarnies and whatever sparkling alcohol was on the bar. It was 10am and a tuba band was playing what I assumed were English songs for the English. The Great Escape theme just makes me think about the film, which is a sad film about bad things. But each to their own. The fans can be forgiven for their excitement; they didn’t know how boring the football ahead would be.

Paddy Power Fairlines

The terminal was decked out in personalized decals, playing on airport tropes. Here is usually where I’d show you my photography, but as I said, the bar was open. If you were expecting the private jet to be painted completely green, then sorry to disappoint you. In hindsight, Paddy Power should have invited the folk who decorated Taylor’s jet.

But it did have the staff do a whole ‘Paddy Fairlines’ bit, with a personalized safety announcement themed on the footy. It was good copy, but you’ll have to take my word for that because I cannot recall any of the puns.

On this trip, I got to know the Paddy Power marketing and brand team, which, as far as I can tell, is half split between piss-taking Irish and piss-taking English. Half wanted England to win, so I was seated with the other half. My worst nightmares about the flight, thankfully, never came true. There was no karaoke. No ‘Ingerlund.’ No football’s coming home. Open bars and early starts make for surprisingly silent flights, it turns out. And the rumors of Danny Dyer himself and Barry from Eastenders making the trip were sadly unfounded. There was a pub quiz, of which I can remember little other than one of the fan teams getting full marks and a Paddy Power staffer looking like they left the answers lying out in the open.

I did a small amount of journalism on the flight. I learned that this fan activation was previously touted for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a seven-hour flight to a dry country that subsequently banned even the smallest pockets of official alcohol supplies. Remember, the competition winners each had four friends, five grand in their pockets and five liters of booze in their stomachs. Qatar was a step too far.

After a few years of waiting, the 90-minute jump to Germany felt more manageable and safer. But I have to say, I was really concerned we’d lose some of our squad to the trip’s excesses. Eventually, I put my worries about Paddy’s brand custodians aside.

Our VIP on the plane was former Apprentice contestant and social media star Tom Skinner. On the day of the game, he initially seemed to me arrogant when he suggested he would be immediately swamped by selfie requests. But the second he stepped off the bus, he was. For about five hours. We tried to form an informal selfie shield. Skinner was to appear on TV the next day to discuss fan violence, given there had been rumors of 500 cyborg paramilitary Serbians who were out for English blood. But the atmosphere inside Schalke stadium, with its diluted Bitburger beer (I’ve honestly had worse), was fairly jovial. The cyborgs were nowhere to be found.

Sitting there in the heavens, I was tempted to try and flash my pants and relive the infamous Bendtner moment, the cheeky Paddy action of old. Attention at any cost. But surrounded by pleasant young German fans, beaming Serbians, and nervous English in crisp £90 Nike jerseys, it never felt right.

John watching the game

In that moment, it was clear I’d matured. And sobered.

And it appears Paddy Power has, too. As a sleek content machine, more than a chaotic mischief maker, it doesn’t have to strip naked for attention any more.

After the private jet, I was coming home to Glasgow. The return with easyJet made me yearn for the comforts of Paddy’s Fairline – even if it was filled with England fans. And now, a serious point at last: fans will never (fully) forget a good experience. Remember that next time your brand is planning one.

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