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Gambling sponsorship under threat from UK government review

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

UK government ministers have committed to reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act in a move which could have a significant impact on sponsorship revenues in British football.

The Times newspaper reports that among the possible amendments being considered is a blanket ban on shirt sponsorship by betting companies across the sport in the country.

The report also suggests less extreme measures are being considered, such as brands being required to demonstrate their commitment to promoting responsible gambling.

Government body The Gambling Commission has already announced a ban on the use of credit cards for gambling in the UK from 2020.

Any restrictions could present a challenge for English Premier League and Football League clubs.

Ten EPL teams hold shirt sponsorship contracts with betting brands. This includes West Ham’s deal with Betway and Everton’s agreement with SportPesa.

Full details of the betting sponsorship within the division and the wider portfolios of each clubs can be accessed via SportBusiness Soccer.

The naming rights to the Football League are held by Sky Bet in a deal due to run until 2024, with many of its clubs relying on income from the sponsorship of gambling operators.

Recently, the issue has been placed in spotlight by Derby County’s signing of former England Captain Wayne Rooney. This is understood to have been heavily funded by the club’s deal with betting firm 32Red.

Industry experts, however, are sceptical that a comprehensive shirt sponsorship ban will take place.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at the Salford Business School, told SportBusiness Sponsorship this morning: “Already we can see that the government is stopping short of talking about a ban. I think both they and football clubs see gambling an important source of revenue. Ideologically and economically, this Tory government will presumably be loathed to intervene in the market in the form of an outright ban.

“As for clubs, given the harsh financial environment in which they typically operate, they won’t want to be faced with losing a source of income. As such, one senses that we will see a more controlled environment in which peoples’ well-being forms part of the messaging around such sponsorships.

“We should therefore expect more warnings being issued about the perils of gambling, though a total ban somehow seems unlikely at the moment.”

Richard Linn, publishing director at iGB, the specialist gambling sector information service, said the industry itself was working to reduce betting company branding of major sports properties and events.

“It’s important to note that the industry is not simply running scared or trying to avoid further controls,” he said. “Operators are taking voluntary measures, and increasing responsible gambling funding, to proactively address criticism and deficiencies.

“It will be interesting to see what comes next. There appears to be a drive to address public concerns about the industry, which may see new controls on advertising introduced – whether this extends to a ban on football shirt sponsorship, for example, remains to be seen.

“Operators have already committed to the ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling advertising on TV in the UK, and many are either ending their shirt or stadium sponsorship deals, or adding responsible gambling messaging to their branding.”

Last week, news also emerged that streaming rights to the FA Cup had been sold to Bet365 by the IMG agency, which the Football Association sold the media rights for the competition to in 2017.

The decision to allow betting operators to stream the competition drew criticism in the UK media, given the FA had moved to distance itself from sponsorship deals with the gambling industry in 2017.

Additional reporting by Matthew Glendinning.