Will Betting Sponsors be Banned from Shirts in the UK?

A group owning betting powerhouses Ladbrokes and Coral calls for betting sponsorships to stop during broadcasting and on clubs’ shirts in the UK. That would change the sponsorship landscape dramatically.

Betting is a big part of football, especially in the UK. The number of shirts, on which we can see betting companies as main sponsors, is telling. Now the GVC Holdings, that owns reknowned bookmaker Ladbrokes, puts more effort in its initiative Changing for the Bettor in order to tackle the problem of gambling. Therefore, betting sponsorships on shirts or perimeter boards in the British Premier League and Footbal League shall be banned. Is that proposition really realisable, given the stranglehold of the industry on sponsorhips?

So many main sponsors in the Premier League are betting companies

Betting companies are widespread sponsors across the football ecosystem. In the Bundesliga, only Hertha BSC sport such a company on their match kits and in La Liga we see Marathonbet on Málaga’s shirts. On the perimeter boards, betting companies are also ever present. But it’s in the UK, that the connection is particularly salient. The Premier League and the Football League Championship are dominated by betting sponsors shirt-wise. In the Premier League, it’s nine from 20 teams, in the Championship an astonishing 17 from 24 that have a betting partner on their chest: Bet365, 32Red, Betfred, 888 Sport, Dafabet, LeoVegas, Betway and the list goes on. The FC Burnley are one on several clubs sporting a betting company on their kits.

Additionally, Sky Bet is sponsoring England’s second, third and fourth tier. Youth teams are not allowed to wear such logos as those of betting companies. Still, a bad influence is assumed by some. At the start of this season, Gambling Watch UK’s Professor Jim Orford was quoted by FootyHeadlines:

There is evidence that gambling is becoming ever more normalised, particularly among young people, so that increasingly betting is seen as part and parcel of following and supporting one’s favourite sport or team. Many people think gambling is now out of control in Britain which has the most liberal online gambling regulations of any European country.

The correlation of betting and football has become common, even professional football players have placed bets more often than they should have in the past. As the debate about this relation goes on, both GVC, that owns Ladbrokes, Coral and Gala, and William Hill are considering a change, when it comes to marketing for betting in sports. According to the BBC, they will both stop football shirt sponsorhips, while GVC will stop perimeter advertising. Moreover, the company, which in January launched its Changing for the Bettor initiative, wants betting companies to stop advertising in sports altogether. At the time, GVC’s Director of Responsible Gaming, Grainne Hurst, said:

Whilst the vast majority of our customers enjoy playing with us in a safe and fun environment we are aware that for some players, gambling can impact their lives negatively. We are committed to leading the industry in minimising potential harm caused by problem gambling. That is why we are today launching Changing for the Bettor and have partnered with Harvard faculty at the Division on Addiction to help us to better understand and tackle the issues around problem gambling.

The UK’s Gambling Minister Mims Davies MP said:

Gambling operators have a key role to play in protecting people from harm and identifying potentially risky betting behaviour.

The first of them are taking a new route. But will others follow suit to tackle the problem, even if it means missing out on a fair amount of views and potentially losing brand awareness?

The UK’s betting problem is getting worse with young people

In 2016, the British National Health Service (NHS) said that 42 per cent (56 if you included National Lottery participants) of the population in England were into gambling. Numbers cited more recently saw about 430.000 problem gamblers in the UK. A new study by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) found that nearly 55.000 children between eleven and 16 years of age have gambling issues, while about 450.000 are into betting activities. On average 16 pound per week are spent for that, despite betting not being allowed for people under 18.

As a first reaction, the UK will ban any advertisement for betting from child-friendly websites or online games. And now, football as one of the main media events not only in the UK, but worldwide, could be next in line, when it comes to ptrotecting young people – but not only them – from being confronted with more betting brands. Besides such negative effects, though, the gross gambling yield (GGY) of the Great Britain gambling industry was 14,4 billion pounds in the year from April 2017 to March 2018; and those numbers will only have grown. That means that the gambling and betting companies do make a lot of money in England, Scotland etc. And will they follow GVC’s lead, if they’re not forced to? Because that could well mean a decrease in revenue, albeit mingled with the good conscience of being more responsible.

One question remains: who does have the responsibility in terms of protecting people from developing gambling problems? It cannot be argued that it is the betting companies’ fault alone simply for being there. But their stranglehold in British football and sports sponsoring certainly reproduces the overcome idea of a correlation of football and betting for the worse. Thus, ending it smoothly might be the right call from the companies themselves. Because regulation could be around the corner, anyway. If that happens, a lot of clubs in British football would have to look for new main sponsors on their shirts, though. But that could be a lucrative competition for viewability eventually. And some new brands might surface in the Premier League or the Football League more prominently. Therefore, this whole debate unites potential and economical fears. It will be exciting to monitor those developments off the pitch in the months and years to come.

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