When the Fun Stops, Stop Letting Betting Companies Sponsor Football
The Presence of Betting
For anyone who has ever watched live football on Sky, you will be familiar with the slogans used in every betting advert that appears on your screen.
When the fun stops, stop.
Be Gamble Aware.
This is aimed at raising awareness to the viewer of how sports betting and gambling can become an addiction, just like an illegal drug. So why are betting companies allowed to be so visible and prevalent across the footballing world? They can be seen from advertising hoarding in stadiums to front-of-shirt sponsors to TV commercials to the naming rights of the English Football Leagues, sponsored by Sky Bet.
According to the investigation in Channel 4’s documentary, Gambling’s Football Addiction, they discovered that in most televised football games, the logos of gambling companies can appear more than 700 times in a match. That equates to 6 appearances per minute. 17 out of the 20 clubs in the Premier League and 17 out of the 24 teams in the Championship are linked with Official Betting Partners. In the 2020/21 season, only Chelsea, Liverpool and Sheffield United were not partnered with one.
Betting companies can dominate football clubs. In the example of Stoke City, not only are they owned by Bet365, whose CEO sits as their vice-chairman, but their stadium is even named after the company.
Sportsradar estimates that football accounts for 70% of the annual worth of sports match betting revenue which is estimated to be between $700bn to $1tn from legal and illegal activity. Bookmakers produce odds on a total of approximately 55,000 football games globally, every year.
Betting and gambling are extraordinarily and indisputably entrenched into football. In this blog I will assess why companies are at the forefront of so many sponsorship deals, the impact and wider consequences on football that this causes and finally, whether there is a solution to these issues.
Do Football Clubs Need Betting Companies?
There is an important consideration to be made in this debate in identifying the considerable attraction of betting companies to football clubs, broadcasters and fans. These companies provide lucrative sponsorship deals and are often willing to pay more than most other industries with the sole exception of airlines perhaps.
Betting companies contribute significant totals to the financial wellbeing of football. Clubs in the English Football League received approximately £100million annually. West Ham’s shirt sponsor, Betway, is the most lucrative deal between a betting company and a club and is worth an estimated £10million per year. Broadcasters receive a total of around £200million from companies such as William Hill, Paddy Power and Sky Bet, which explains why there are so many gambling adverts during the half time break and build up.
When I consider the issues and solutions below in this blog, it must be noted that it is important to justify any restrictions or ‘blanket bans’ upon gambling company sponsorship because of the obvious financial advantages and benefits to football that it provides.
The economic boosts that betting companies provide with their sponsorship are particularly welcomed since the difficulties that the Covid-19 pandemic created for the leagues and clubs. If the EFL lost their partnership with Sky Bet, this alone would cost the league £40million which, during times like these, is not financially viable. The influence of betting companies on football extends far beyond adding a bit of excitement for fans.
Match betting, in its simplest form, is designed to enhance the experience of the fan watching the game. Whether you support a team playing or not, the vast array of markets and odds to bet on create added excitement around all aspects of the game such as corners, throw ins, yellow cards, shots on target and even transfers. If used correctly and safely, it is possible that betting enriches football as a spectacle and increases the volume of interest into any football game, regardless of a fan’s team allegiance. However, this is often not the case and does not have the desired effect.
The issue with the prevalence of betting in football lies in its addictive nature and the immorality of financially exploiting vulnerable football fans. Whilst it may financially benefit football, it is ignorant of the wider negative impact it has on the wellbeing of the most important people, the fans.
Betting companies are very cleverly marketed. During football games, ‘odds boosts’ and ‘free bets’ for new customers are promoted everywhere. This entices fans to register and begin match-betting on a website. This is often the first step on the slippery slope which goes beyond football and can push them down the even more addictive hole of Casino gambling on the same platforms.
With 9% of the UK population estimated as participating in sports betting, gambling addiction has been a significant problem with around 245,000 people in the UK now classed as ‘problem gamblers’. The EFL attempted to mount a defense against blanket bans of gambling company involvement in football and estimated that between 2010 and 2018, the percentage of problem gamblers has halved. Whether this investigation was subject to bias in an effort to defend sponsors or not, the research admitted that even after halving, problem gambling still stands at 3%. The relentless exposure of fans, clubs, children and even the players to betting company sponsorships and promotions during their experience of watching or attending a football game inevitably plays a part in this statistic.
One of the most troubling statistics is from a Gambling Commission audit in 2018 that recorded 55,000 children aged between 11 and 18 that were classified in the ‘problem gambling’ category. More of these children admitted to betting than they did to drugs or alcohol. These child victims will have contributed to the £14.4billion that was lost through betting across the UK in 2019, imagine how many lives this would have ruined!
For football players, betting is a minefield. In recent times, gambling has overtaken drugs and alcohol as the biggest addiction problem for professionals. They are lured by the hype and exposure to betting and fall victim to the trap.
Match-fixing and inside information is a dreaded problem for the integrity of football. The most recent well-known scandal was in March of 2020 when the ex-Liverpool player, Daniel Sturridge, was banned for 4 months and fined £150,000 which resulted in a termination of his contract at the Turkish club, Trabzonspor. He was accused and found guilty of leaking inside information regarding transfers to friends and family though he maintained it was always spoken of in an innocent manner in normal conversation. He was unaware that some of the people he told would then place bets on that information.
There have been many cases throughout the history of football documenting various match-fixing scandals and the involvement of gangs, officials, clubs and players in undermining the integrity of the sport. The issue became almost laughable in 2017 when the goalkeeper for Sutton United ate a pasty whilst filmed by the cameras during their David vs Goliath FA Cup tie with Arsenal. The whole event was done in jest of the fact that a bookmaker had offered odds of 8-1 on him to appear on camera, eating a pie. It was deemed that the goalkeeper had unfairly ‘influenced’ the betting market and he was banned for two months.
In the most extreme cases of match fixing, those involved will receive lifetime bans from football. Football associations and organisations around the world have clear regulations regarding betting for individuals that are professional involved in football. The rules prohibit these people from indirectly or directly betting upon any footballing activity around the world. Even if betting companies were banned from being involved directly in football through sponsorship or otherwise, there will still be a demand for match betting and therefore a risk of match fixing or inside information damaging the integrity of football.
What Can Be Done?
After 1986, FIFA banned the acceptance of sponsorship deals from the Tobacco industry. Throughout all sport this became the norm as several major players in the Tobacco industry who had previously had their names etched all over sports events, became invisible. This went a long way in showing that smoking and the addiction to the habit was condemned within the sporting world but did not eradicate smoking in its entirety.
Dealing with gambling in football is a similar story. Wholly effective solutions to the problems that betting creates are almost impossible. However, mitigation is important and steps such as banning sponsorship would certainly decrease the exposure to and prominence of betting companies in the same way that banning Tobacco companies did. Globally, football governing bodies should consider a way of removing betting companies out of the spotlight in football.
For example, the UK government has recently revisited the 2005 Gambling Act and considered introducing a blanket ban upon any sponsorship deals with betting companies in sport. There have been defiant objections from the EFL and the clubs themselves. As shown earlier, if this were to be implemented the game would suffer financial losses and would be forced into finding alternative sources of sponsorship revenue that are supposedly unlikely to be as highly valued as partnerships with betting companies. Especially during the pandemic, clubs are reliant upon lucrative deals and will inevitably oppose any proposals to prohibit the major source of income provided by betting companies.
In my opinion, this is morally wrong. Clubs should prioritise the mental and financial wellbeing of their fans and aim to protect them from the dangers of betting by making it taboo. The football world has already half-accepted the wrongness of betting sponsorship by banning the logos from appearing on children’s football shirts. But the same children watch the adults play week in week out, bombarded with over 700 sightings of betting logos per game. Gambling becomes subconsciously ingrained into their naïve minds and increases the likelihood of them participating in betting in the future and potentially causing themselves psychological and monetary problems.
Simply ending an advert with when the fun stops, stop, and telling fans to be ‘aware’ is not enough to overcome the problems that betting causes football and football fans. More must be done to minimize the exposure to betting companies that the football world is currently subject to. Governing bodies, clubs and broadcasters should implement restrictions on the involvement of betting companies in football. This could include limiting the number of gambling adverts seen during a game, minimizing the size of betting sponsors or making their presence more discrete.
However, I would argue that as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, clubs will be able to find suitable alternatives for sponsorship if they are forced to try hard enough. Betting companies are not the be-all and end-all for their sponsorship revenue. If rules are brought in banning sponsorship from betting companies, then the clubs will have no other choice but to replace them and I am confident they would be able to do so.
Italy and Turkey have already taken the lead in banning shirt sponsors donning the logos of betting companies and La Liga is expected to continue the trend next season. Teams in these leagues are still able to survive financially and find alternative sponsorship options so I see no reason why these restrictions would not be feasible globally.
Even the gambling companies themselves have acknowledged the deeply-ingrained problem and the parent company of Ladbrokes and Coral have taken it upon themselves to withdraw their sponsorship from football. Their chief executive publicly stated that the industry was threatening football and that the relationship between gambling and football needs to be looked at.
In conclusion, the main argument for allowing betting companies to sponsor clubs and leagues is because of the revenue that it generates. For me, this is not a sufficient reason to negate the wellbeing of the fans of football. They are the victims in this as they are mercilessly exposed to enticing adverts for betting websites and drawn into a world that is dangerously addictive.
There should be a ban placed upon the prominent involvement of betting companies in football in an effort to reduce the numbers of ‘problem gamblers’ and to mitigate the consequences that gambling has upon football.