Betting in football: could a sponsorship of games of chance prevent the ruin of clubs?


West Ham and Burnley are two of eight Premier League teams to have gaming sponsorships on their shirts

Former footballer and player Paul Pettigrew, who speaks to school children about the dangers of betting, says he recently asked a class of 15-year-olds how many companies they know – and they responded with 13 different names.

As the former Morton player, who lost £ 32,000 at the age of 19, puts it: “The advertising works 100%”.

British government plans to ban sponsorship of gambling in football as part of its review of the Gambling Act, but English Football League president Rick Parry has said such a move could result in the “bankruptcy” of some of its 72 clubs.

He also told BBC Sport that, as part of the EFL’s submission to the journal, he commissioned research suggesting there was “no evidence” that advertising increases the number of problem gamblers, including 245,000 in England according to a study carried out in 2018 by NHS Digital.

Campaigners, who want to end football betting sponsorship, have questioned this claim and say ads are ubiquitous, target vulnerable players and normalize practice for children.

How damaging could a ban be for clubs? And is it possible to find a happy medium?

What is gambling sponsorship worth for teams?

Parry says a game sponsorship ban would cost the EFL, which is sponsored by Sky Bet, £ 40million a year in lost revenue. Last year he warned that the pandemic had left a “£ 200million hole” in club finances.

This is especially evident for jersey sponsorship where teams in the lower Premier League or Championship bounds are offered more money from the gaming companies than from the alternative brands.

A club manager told BBC Sport it could amount to an extra £ 5-6million per season. West Ham’s shirt deal with Betway is worth £ 10million per season, the elite’s most lucrative gaming sponsorship deal.

The Championship club manager, speaking anonymously, admitted he was “desperate” to forgo having a sponsor betting on his jerseys because of the club’s values. But he said the difference in income could fund the purchase of an additional player and justify the alternative to his owners would prove difficult, especially after a year without a crowd.

“If we are talking about several million pounds less over the course of a contract, it adds up,” he said.

Parry said: “On the sidelines, a sponsorship betting ban could make the difference between some clubs going bankrupt or not. It is not easy to find new sponsors at the moment.”

However, shirt sponsorship is only part of the story.

In the Premier League, eight clubs have betting companies on their shirts, but 17 have betting partners, who advertise on the pitch, on training kits and on social media. In the Championship, 10 of the 24 clubs have jersey sponsorships, but that number also increases when partners are considered.

This is why the EFL – among others – is pressuring the government to try to prevent a blanket ban – and thinks it has a strong case.

Paul Pettigrew speaking on behalf of GamTalk
Paul Pettigrew says: “Clubs that are not allowed to sponsor children’s shirts are almost admitting that there is something wrong.”

The moral argument

As part of its submission for the Gambling Act review, the EFL commissioned what it claims to be “independent” research by Professor Iain McHale of the University of Liverpool.

Parry says McHale found that participation in gambling in sports remained stable at around 9% of the population between 2010 and 2018, and that over the same period, the rate of problem gambling in sports had halved from from 6% to 3%.

“I’m not saying 3% is an acceptable number or should be ignored,” Parry told BBC Sport. “But the point is, the rate of gambling problems compared to sports betting has dropped dramatically.”

The Big Step, a campaign group that wants a ban, says research should not be categorized as independent given the EFL’s agenda and says problem gambling numbers are often inaccurate.

Still, the Gambling Commission, which regulates the industry, says its latest figures show a drop in the number of problem gamblers in England, although it has warned they could be biased due to reasons related to Covid .

Parry added: “Rather than saying that there should be a blanket ban on trade deals, it is perhaps much more relevant to say if there are problems with the volume of advertising, if there is has issues with using social media, and for example getting sports people to approve betting, then that can be resolved. I think it’s much better to resolve those issues if we’re involved. “

Pettigrew, who started his own charity GamTalk to talk to kids about the game, also believes the number of ads should be cut.

“Football is the national sport and advertisements have been subconsciously ingrained in children from an early age,” he said. “They are bright and colorful and grab your attention.

“I’m a football fan too and the last thing I want to see is all the clubs go bankrupt, but there are a lot of other sponsors they could get.

“Clubs are already not allowed to sponsor children’s shirts, which almost admits there is something wrong.”

“ Football can be weaned from gambling money ”

Tranmere Rovers chairman Mark Palios believes that “football can be weaned” from gambling revenues.

The League Two club are one of several English football clubs – including Chelsea, Liverpool, Sheffield United, Luton and Forest Green Rovers – that do not have betting sponsors.

He told a parliamentary group which discussed the relationship between football and betting in March: “In our case, shirt sponsorship revenue could be £ 100,000 in a budget of £ 1.5million, so it’s not huge and it’s not a zero sum game. Clubs can find other sponsors to replace what they already have. ”

In the same discussion, Palios also suggested that part of the problem was due to “a thirst for spending money” because “player salaries are out of control”.

Parry agrees on the sustainability of football, but doesn’t think football has become so dependent on gambling money that he ignores the dangers associated with the industry.

“If you look at the championship for example, at several times over the past decade salaries have been over 100% of revenue,” he said.

“It’s clearly not sustainable and we’re looking to fix it, but I don’t think that in any way demonstrates that we’re too dependent on the game or any particular industry.

“We were not the ones who liberalized the gambling market and caused the explosion of Internet betting, it was the 2005 law on games of chance.

“If the government has decided it wants the most liberal betting market in the world, that’s fine, but don’t criticize us for taking advantage of the business opportunities it generates.”

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