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FA to review betting rights strategy amid criticism of Bet365 coverage

Brentford face Stoke City during FA Cup Third Round match on January 04, 2020 (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

The English Football Association has said it will review its strategy on the sale of betting streaming rights to the FA Cup when its existing six-year agreement with the IMG agency expires at the end of the 2023-24 season.

The FA outlined its position in response to a Daily Mail report that flagged up the availability of FA Cup match broadcasts to customers of Bet365, despite the governing body’s move in 2017 to distance itself from partnerships with the gambling industry. The report also highlighted criticism of the Bet365 coverage by anti-gambling campaigners, politicians and the National Health Service.

IMG Arena, the sport’s betting unit of the IMG agency, sells FA Cup betting streaming rights to gambling operators worldwide, in addition to its sale of worldwide broadcast rights (excluding Western Europe and the Mena region).

In its statement, the FA said: “The FA agreed a media rights deal with IMG in early 2017, part of which permits them to sell the right to show live footage or clips of FA Cup matches to bookmakers. Bet365 acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018-19 season.

“This deal was agreed before we made a clear decision on the FA’s relationship with gambling companies in June 2017 when we ended our partnership with Ladbrokes.

“We will review this element of the media rights sales process ahead of tendering rights to the new cycle from the 2024-25 season onwards. Leagues and clubs continue to govern their own relationships with gambling companies.”

All matches except those kicking off at 3.01pm on Saturday were offered domestically to Bet365 customers during FA Cup third-round action over the weekend. However, the streaming was only available to registered customers with at least £5 (€5.80/$6.46) in their account.

In accordance with standard betting streaming legislation, restrictions were placed on the quality of the stream and screen size so as to avoid undermining the broadcast coverage being shown domestically by rights-holders BBC and BT Sport. Clauses are also inserted into IMG’s contracts with betting operators to limit how they can advertise the coverage.

The FA struck the six-year betting rights deal with IMG before its announcement in 2017 that it would end its £4m-per-year sponsorship with the bookmaker Ladbrokes. That move came after an internal three-month review amid increasing pressure over the FA stance on sponsorships with gambling companies given high-profile betting cases featuring players.

At the time, the FA said it would end all sponsorships with betting companies, although made no mention of its position on betting streaming rights.

IMG is paying an average of $121.7m [€109m/£92.7m] per season for the FA Cup’s international broadcast rights (excluding Western Europe and Mena) from 2018-19 to 2023-24, a significant uplift on the value of the rights previously. Broadcast rights in Western Europe and the Mena region are sold by the Pitch International agency under deals struck in October 2016 and first reported by SportBusiness.