Where has gambling sponsorship in football come from and where is it likely to lead?
Without sponsors, football clubs wouldn’t survive, but recently, a number of clubs throughout the Premier League, Championship and Football Leagues have taken gambling sponsors onboard.
The rise in popularity of gambling, from brick-and-mortar establishments to the online world, have made such companies impossible to steer away from. The Football Association (FA), for example, previously had a deal with betting giant Ladbrokes. And, whilst that deal ended in 2017, Ladbrokes casino and sports betting platform continue to do well off the back of the lucrative sponsorship deal, even since it concluded.
In 2018, the gambling industry was worth £14.5 billion in the UK with sports betting equating to almost seven percent of that. As such, betting companies are major targets for sporting – particularly football clubs – for both exposure and financial reasons. But in which direction is this sponsorship heading?
Premier League and football
Half of the 20 Premier League sides taking part in the 2019-20 season went into the season with a gambling sponsor after signing deals worth a combined £69 million. Malta-based Betway was found to be the biggest contributor via its £10 million deal with West Ham United.
Incredibly, just three Premier League sides began this season without partnering a betting brand: Brighton & Hove Albion, Sheffield United and Southampton FC. Top-half sides such as the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal also sport official partnerships with betting brands off the pitch.
For Leicester City and Newcastle United, betting is at the heart of their clubs with the Foxes listing Bet365, Betway and W88.com as “valued club partners” and the Magpies entertaining Bet365 and MansionBet combined with Fun88 as its shirt sponsor.
Whilst the Premier League is undoubtedly the highest-profile, the rest of the English leagues are rife with betting branding too. Just seven Championship sides avoided entertaining betting companies as shirt sponsors before heading into the 2019-20 season.
Criticism and controversy
This has sparked a great deal of controversy in recent years with some criticising the advertisement of betting companies encouraging gambling and the issues that surround it. Even Irish betting brand Paddy Power used its space on both Huddersfield Town’s and Motherwell FC’s shirts in a bid to switch attention to the use of kits as “billboards” before the season began.
Others, like Premier League chief Richard Marsters, believe that football and gambling go hand-in-hand and that it is up to clubs themselves to police the potential problems.
That relaxed stance in itself does, however, seem to contradict the Premier League’s commitment to community programmes, which implement social inclusion and education projects in deprived areas with vulnerable people. The argument that the increase in gambling sponsorship is ‘failing addicts’ is not exactly a good look for the top flight of English football.
What is clear, though, is that betting branding will not stop if given the chance to proliferate. As the rise in gambling continues, so will the domination of betting branding in sport and, in particular, football.