According to Sports Minister Nigel Adams, football has become far too dependent on sponsorship from gambling companies and needs to look at different sources of income. On that note, it is thought that the incoming review into the Gambling Act will take a look at the link between sports and the betting industry, in particular football.
The statement was made during Adams’ recent interview with BBC Sport in which he criticised the Football Association for selling off live streaming rights to FA Cup matches to bet365 which were then accessible for customers who had bet a minimum amount or deposited in the 24 hours before kick-off.
At the time, the deal angered many especially given that every match of the FA Cup third round that weekend kicked off one minute late supposedly designed for viewers to take a minute and think about their mental health.
Every level of English football is littered with shirt sponsorships and advertisements, while the entire English Football League (EFL) is sponsored by Skybet, leading to fears that gambling is being normalised among young fans. In fact, half of all Premier League clubs have betting firms as shirt sponsors, whilst almost all of the others have branded tie-ins.
“We have to look at this very carefully because problem gambling leads to serious social problems, and in some cases people have done drastic things and taken their lives, so we are looking at this very closely.
Occasionally it boils over and you get incidents like you had with some clubs who get into bother over it, like at Huddersfield Town, and the stunt there. So there’s way too much dependency, and I’m sure the football authorities are aware of that.”
The stunt in question, which saw the club fined £50,000, saw Huddersfield release a new home kit in the summer that included an oversized Paddy Power logo running across it, which later turned out to be a Paddy Power ‘Save Our Shirts’ publicity stunt that removed their logos from the shirts of each of the teams that they sponsor.
Others involved included Motherwell, Southend United and Newport County. Earlier this month, 32Red paid for Wayne Rooney to return to English football with Derby County and even went so far as to assign him the shirt number 32.
Many Other Sports Also Reliant On Gambling
Such advertising is rife across all sport, not just football. Horse racing is an obvious one, it is very hard to see how it could exist in its current form without gambling companies, after-all most people go to the races to place bets. It is likely horse racing will be excluded or will have a special arrangement under any new sport sponsorpship rules.
Betway are sponsoring the latest England Cricketing tour of South Africa, and, over Christmas, the Darts World Championships were sponsored by William Hill. In fact, most, if not all, events in darts receive such a sponsorship.
In snooker, the World Grand Prix is sponsored by Coral and makes up one third of the wider Coral Cup, a three piece trophy that was designed solely by the bookmakers for winners of the Coral World Grand Prix, the Coral Players Championship and the Coral Tour Championship. While there is less pressure on Horse Racing to comply, this too is a highly sponsored sport.
Now though the government is to review gambling advertising laws in relation to football and other sports. While, Labour are calling for all betting shirt sponsorships in football to be banned, the Conservative MP Adams refused to admit if such a ban were even possible given that it’s a time of extreme financial turmoil in the EFL.
According to the English Football League, gambling companies contribute £40 million annually, a figure that rises to £70 million for the Premier League. The EFL even acknowledge the need for the gambling industry to inject a financial contribution back into football which is, at present, being achieved through such commercial partnerships.
And there is the rub. Many of the football clubs outside of the elite teams are, as Adams acknowledged, heavily reliant on this critical revenue stream. At a time when many football clubs in the lower leagues are going to the wall, eliminating this income over night without replacing it would lead to further hard times and eventual disaster.
Gambling might well be the new tobacco industry when it comes to advertising, but it is easy to forget that there was a time when Formula 1, snooker, darts and other sports were littered in cigarette ads and they are all currently doing better than ever right now.
Ironically, such is the problematic symbiotic nature of the relationship between gambling and sport, many sports’ success is largely in thanks to the gambling industry drawing in new viewers, not just the monetary input that it generates, as was the case with its smoky predecessor. That said, it is clear that something needs to give and soon.