Businesses partner with university rugby team to develop soft skills from school of hard knocks

A university rugby league team is strengthening its partnerships with business and local communities under a new operating model as it kicks off a new season.

Mike Ellis of 43 Clicks North, Rob Daysley of Designs Signage Solutions and Matt Thompson of the University of Hull

Instead of being run solely by the Students’ Union the club at the University of Hull is receiving more input from the University Sport Department (Hull Sport) who are harnessing links with ex-players in the world of business and their corporate contacts.

Mike Ellis, managing director of performance marketing agency 43 Clicks North and a former player, said other business leaders recognise the student sport environment as a potential source of future talent.

Matt Thompson, the University’s business development manager for sport, said the rugby league team’s collaboration with the corporate world could set a blueprint for other sports on the campus.

Mike studied psychology at Hull and signed up for the rugby team after working with some of the players in a city centre bar. He developed his skills and, after heading to Northumbria University to do his masters degree, played for Gateshead.

As alumni executive for the current University of Hull team Mike has helped to secure the support of other former players – some of whom progressed to Super League level – and from non-playing business contacts who are scouting key skills.

Rob Daysley, managing director of Designs Signage Solutions, said: “We provide signage solutions nationwide for a variety of businesses – including the MKM Stadium and Sewell Group Craven Park in Hull – and we recognise the importance of supporting grass roots sport.

“By getting involved at the University we’re also extending a warm welcome to newcomers to our city. We want students to come to Hull, enjoy the city, stay around and build lives and careers here.”

Other support has come from businesses in sectors including mortgages and insurance, fencing contractors, IT and recruitment.

Mike said: “Most university rugby league clubs stay under the Students’ Union banner, which means it has to be totally student run. At Hull there’s still a student committee with oversight of the club, but there is more influence from the University Sport Department and things are more open for other people to bring in ideas.

“It’s very early stages at the moment but I want to create a year-round programme which is a two-way street. It can give the team more access to businesses, workshops, help with their CV and interview techniques, money management and saving for a first house.

“The businesses can identify future employees and provide essential experience to ensure they are work ready. University rugby league is certainly a school of hard knocks but our involvement can teach people those all-important soft skills.”

With the Hull team preparing for their first home game of the season against Leeds Beckett Seconds on Wednesday 1 November, Matt has been building the business partnerships into his player recruitment drive.

He said: “We have gone through a significant period of change with the club structure and we have had a really good welcome period, including a taster session with around 40 men and women attending.

“We have a few talented athletes coming through – one recently represented the Scotland Academy side. Every year we see a number of our students graduate and we are always looking for ways to create opportunities for students new to the University and region to experience all that rugby league has to offer.

“Our new approach has taken us into some really interesting areas around governance, inclusion and participation while creating a range personal development opportunities away from the sporting field.

“Corporate relationships really strengthen our programme and support our focus in taking a sporting product into colleges and schools in some hard to reach areas, generating positive change and using rugby league and higher education for social movement.”

To find out more about 43 Clicks North’s work to build digital and business communities please visit