The secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan has questioned the wisdom of Football Association’s (FA) two year old decision to go into partnership with Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Paddy Power, allowing the bookmakers to live stream FA Cup matches, and suggesting that the organisation should “reconsider” the relationship.
In January’s FA Cup third round, the online bookmaking giant Bet365 was permitted to live stream 23 FA Cup third-round matches of the 25 that were not available on TV thanks to a deal signed three years previously in January 2017. The FA announced it was cutting its ties with gambling firms in July 2017, but this deal was done in January of the same year, preceding any pledge by seven months.
By way of enticing larger bet amounts, the matches were only available to access on the bet365 app to customers that placed a bet of at least £5 or more up to 24 hours prior to kick-off and came into effect in the 2018/20 football season.
The English Football League has a similar deal in place with Sky Bet but this deal differs slightly because all of the games are available to view elsewhere meaning that they were not bet per view, as with bet365 where viewers looking to watch a match had no legal alternative to placing a minimum £5 wager to access footage.
The FA’s deal with bet365 expires in 2024 after which the FA have promised to review how they sell their future media rights, saying that they will “review the media rights sales process ahead of tendering rights to the new cycle from the 2024-25 season onwards”.
However, more than two years after the FA promised to end partnerships with gambling firms, Nicky Morgan MP tweeted that she believed that all sports bodies should be mindful of the impact problem gambling has on the most vulnerable, insisting she hoped that they will reconsider.
Bet365 said in a statement;
“Bet365 does not sponsor the FA or the FA Cup and does not have any direct commercial agreement with the FA. bet365, along with multiple other operators, has the right to live stream certain FA Cup matches through a long standing media rights deal with IMG. There is no obligation on bet365’s customers to place a bet on any FA Cup match to enjoy the live streams at bet365. To do so, customers are simply required to either have a funded bet365 account or to have placed a bet on any event with bet365 in the previous 24 hours. This requirement importantly ensures that all such customers are fully verified to prevent under 18s from accessing the service. Bet365 believes that these streaming services provide added value to its customers and enable them to watch FA Cup matches that they might not otherwise have been able to see.”
Only last month, it was announced that bet365 chief executive Denise Coates had retained her place as the highest paid boss in the United Kingdom after receiving a £57 million pay rise in 2019 when she took home a basic salary of almost £277 million plus a further £45 million in dividends.
Betting Sites Suggest Free Streaming
In response to the government Bet365 and the other betting sites with FA Cup streaming rights have suggested they would be happy for games to be streamed for free through another service and that they do not need exclusivity on the rights.
Online bookmakers stream a lot of sports and events and have been doing so for over 10 years. The issue here is largely to do with the fact that many FA Cup games could only be watched by either depositing or betting, which could encourage irresponsible gambling. Adults may also be tempted to allow children to watch their betting streams, which again would be irresponsible.
The only games that cannot be broadcast are those on at 3pm on a Saturday, but it is hoped that by making the other non-televised games available for free that betting companies can retain the facility for customers that genuinely want to bet and use it, while others that don’t want to can watch it elsewhere.
Bookmakers argue that streaming is a facility that can enhance a betting experience while also allowing the user to gain more information that may help decision making. Used correctly the service can be used responsibly, but only if people don’t feel they have to bet to watch their teams.
It is likely streaming will be part of the next government review into online gambling that may see the replacement of the now outdated 2005 Gambling Act.