Richard Flint: Digital is the big game in town on Play-Off weekend

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TENS of thousands of football fans from Yorkshire will make the trip down the M1 to Wembley this weekend to cheer on Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley in the Sky Bet Championship and League One Play-Off finals. This season- defining weekend is obviously hugely significant for these clubs and their supporters.

The financial importance of the Championship Play-Off Final in particular has been well documented. Often described as the most valuable game in football, the winner will be £163m better off over the next three years. I hope much of this will be reinvested in the region through club wages to be spent in the area, improvements to facilities and the community work that all of these clubs carry out.

But the additional revenues that the newly-promoted teams will benefit from won’t be the only economic boost that our region gets from the Play-Off finals. With three out of six teams in the play-off finals coming from Yorkshire, and the first ever all Yorkshire Championship Play-Off Final, the global media attention surrounding these games, plus the significant television audience for the actual matches, should provide a great opportunity for millions to learn about our county.

And despite being an Arsenal fan, as the CEO of a Yorkshire-based business, it will be great to have another club from the county joining Middlesbrough back in the top flight of English football.

Sky Bet has been the headline sponsor of the Football League for the last three seasons. We are incredibly proud of our relationship with the League, its 72 clubs and their fans. The funding we provide from our HQ here in the heart of Yorkshire reaches communities across the country. This relationship has been a significant part of our growth over the last few years and I am delighted we have extended our deal for another three years.

In our first season of sponsorship we took around 177,000 bets on the Championship Play-Off Final. This year we’re expecting to take 300,000. So not only will it therefore be a busy day for the players and fans, but our colleagues in Leeds will also be working hard to deliver the best possible experience for the 400,000 or so customers who will choose to bet with us over the Bank Holiday weekend.

At peak times tomorrow, our technology will process around 125 bets per second – more transactions per second than Amazon completed on Black Friday – and deal with 100 account logins per second. In addition, our nearly 200-strong contact centre and social media teams will respond to around 4,000 customer queries.

Adding to the entertainment experience of big matches like this requires talented and dedicated staff using some of the most cutting-edge technology and digital working practices seen in our region.

Further, Leeds and Sheffield have proven to be the right cities to find the people we need to deliver our range of complex, real-time products.

This is all great news for Yorkshire. Over the period of our sponsorship alone we’ve grown our head count from around 450 people in Leeds to over 1,000 across Leeds and Sheffield. We have created some of the most highly skilled jobs in the tech sector, opportunities for graduates and some never- seen-before job roles within our teams.

With more co-working spaces, a wealth of meet-up groups and community events, as well as the first ever Leeds Digital Festival taking place last month, we’ve seen both Leeds and Sheffield rise to prominence as important tech clusters in the UK’s digital economy.

We’re proud of the role we play within our regional economy.

An independent report to be released in the next few weeks estimates that we added £143m to Yorkshire and the Humber’s economy last year alone.

This exceeds the amount the winning club in the League will receive in additional annual revenues when they enter the Premier League. The same report also suggests that for every 100 people we employ, we support an additional 47 jobs throughout Yorkshire and the Humber, which is welcome news for us all. Our job creation drive is continuing, with around 125 current vacancies currently being advertised and 18 places still remaining on our software academy programme for graduates.

This scheme provides not only paid, accelerated learning in one of the UK’s fastest growing digital business but also guaranteed full-time employment at the end.

So as you watch the matches this weekend, whether you’re at home with friends or cheering on your team in your local, it won’t only be a big weekend for Yorkshire football, but also a major event for our region and its economy as a whole.

Here’s to a great Play-Off weekend and good luck to all the Yorkshire teams involved.

Richard Flint is chief executive of Yorkshire-based Sky Bet.