The seven betting companies that acquired FA Cup streaming rights in the UK from the IMG agency have expressed their willingness for matches to be streamed free of charge elsewhere.
The offer from the UK’s Betting and Gaming Council on behalf of Bet365, Betfair, Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Unibet and William Hill comes amid a public furore over the streaming offering by UK bookmakers.
News that Bet365 and other operators are streaming matches, albeit to registered users with funds in their accounts, has been met with criticism from anti-gambling campaigners, politicians and the National Health Service. This is due to the FA move in 2017 to distance itself from sponsorships with the gambling industry as it ended its tie-up with Ladbrokes.
Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council, has now said: “Our members did not seek exclusivity for the rights to screen FA Cup games. They are therefore happy for IMG to offer the rights to screen these games to the Football Association or another appropriate body so that the games can be viewed for free by the public with immediate effect.”
Pressure from the government has intensified and the matter was discussed in parliament yesterday (Thursday). Nigel Adams, the UK Sports Minister, said on Twitter: “It’s now over to [the FA] and IMG to ensure that fans can view these FA Cup games without needing to register for or to place a bet.
“I expect [the] FA to act urgently to look at restricting the current FA Cup broadcasting deal which enables betting companies to exclusively broadcast online some of the games.”
IMG’s worldwide betting streaming agreement, which runs from 2018-19 to 2023-24, only allows IMG Arena, its betting arm, to sell betting rights and provide the feed to betting operators. It does also sell international broadcast rights to the tournament (excluding Western Europe and the Mena region), but the FA sells its broadcast rights domestically.
Therefore, any free streaming of matches that would be shown on the FA website, or by third parties, would require the feed to be provided from elsewhere. Free streaming in the UK would also need to be geo-blocked given broadcast and betting rights deals in place internationally.
SportBusiness understands that there have been no conversations between the FA and IMG about withdrawing the betting rights agreement. The FA said earlier this week that it would review its strategy on the sale of betting streaming rights to the FA Cup when its existing six-year agreement with IMG expires in 2024.
The FA will doubtless be keen that any free streaming of matches does not clash with games shown by domestic broadcasters BBC and BT Sport. From 2021-22 onwards, however, the issue of protecting paywall UK television coverage will be removed as rights will be shared by free-to-air duo BBC and ITV.
UK betting operators are already precluded from streaming the FA Cup matches taking place on Saturday at 3pm. These matches are not shown by broadcasters in the UK either in order to protect stadium attendances.
In accordance with standard betting streaming legislation, restrictions are placed on the quality of the stream and screen size so as to avoid undermining the broadcast coverage being shown domestically. Clauses are also inserted into IMG’s contracts with betting operators to limit how they can advertise the coverage.
At the time of ending its partnership with Ladbrokes, the FA said it would end all sponsorships with betting companies, although made no mention of its position on betting streaming rights.