There is an undoubtable link between sports and gambling sponsorship deals, especially in the UK. Almost irrespective of the sport that you look at, you won’t have to look very far before you see that someone or something to do with it has been sponsored by a gambling company or a betting business. As you might expect, however, this is has become less and less acceptable as time has gone in, especially when it became clear that young people were being influenced by the adverts and sponsorships that they were seeing on a daily basis when following their favourite sports.
As a result, gambling companies have either become less popular with sports teams and players or else they’ve been forced to take a step back. In some cases, such as the decision of gambling companies to introduce a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling adverts during sporting events, the move has been self-imposed. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it does appear as though sports in general are making a decision to move away from gambling companies as a source of sponsorship and therefore income. At the same time, other, equally as unreliable, income streams are being turned to.
Why It’s Such An Issue
The first question that some people might ask is why it matters. People will always gamble and companies will always make money, so is it really important which companies sponsor those companies, even if they have ties to gambling? The answer comes in the form of the damage that such adverts can do, as explained by a research article into the recall of children into adverts. The study, which was conduction in New South Wales, used certain techniques to measure how clearly kids could remember certain sponsors and the teams that they were associated with.
It found that 77% of the children interviewed were able to recall at least one shirt sponsor, associating alcohol and gambling more highly with the popular sports in the country. Those aged between nine and 12 were more readily able to recall the sponsor than those aged five to eight, but all age groups were able to accurately recall sponsors and the teams. The conclusion of those carrying out the experiment was that Australian sports should reconsider the the relationships that they had with certain ‘unhealthy commodity products’ in order to better protect young and vulnerable people.
Though the study was looking very specifically at Australian sports and their associated sponsors, it is just as applicable to British sports teams and the various firms that sponsor them. It is not as if those that live Down Under have some sort of thing in place that means that they are better at remembering things than people based in different parts of the world. The need to protect the most vulnerable is always at the front of what critics of the gambling industry are keen for the United Kingdom Gambling Commission to try to do, as well as what the UKGC sees as one of its remits.
Of all of the associations between sports and gambling, the number of betting companies that took on sponsorship duties for football teams was high on the list in recent years. At the start of 2021-2022 season, nine teams in the Premier League as well as six in the Championship had a gambling company as their main shirt sponsor. It soon became such an issue that it was believed that the government’s review of the Gambling Act of 2005 would specifically highlight the problem of gambling companies working with football teams.
Even away from shirt sponsorship, football teams clearly have a tight relationship with gambling firms. All but one of the teams in the top-flight had some sort of partnership with a betting company for the 2021-2022 campaign, whilst 15 sides in the Championship did. A government source said about the issue,
“We are pretty sure there is going to be an end to front-of-shirt advertising. Everybody is expecting that. Reformers want more but a lot of politicians are worried about the lower leagues. The Government thinks front-of-shirt will catch the headlines and it will feel like it has made a bold statement.”
Government action would obviously mean that neither football clubs nor major teams were willingly moving away from the world of sponsor, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. With football being the biggest sport in the world and certainly the most popular in the United Kingdom, where it goes others will likely follow. Whether banning shirt sponsors alone would prove to be enough of a statement remains to be seen, but there does appear to be cross-party support for the idea of cutting down gambling’s influence.
Gambling Has ‘Devoured British Sport’
When Football Index collapsed, leaving large numbers of people in financial ruin as a result, there was a call from many to examine the relationship that sport had with gambling. For some critics, the world of gambling had ‘devoured British sport’ not just over a year or two, but over several decades. An Assistant Professional in the Department of Health at the University of Bath, Darragh McGee, said that the ‘gamblification’ of sports has been years in the making and occurred thanks to a ‘perfect storm of elements’ that were basically unstoppable.
“Gambling has become culturally embedded and normalised in the sporting world. The process of consuming sport today is increasingly entwined with gambling practices. We’ve got an accelerated sports culture, in which the casual staking of money is almost an essential accompaniment to watching the game for a lot of young fans today.”
It is a situation that was a long time in the making, accelerated by the National Lottery being allowed to advertise after its 1994 launch, which led the likes of bingo operators and the football pools to protest that they should be allowed to gamble too.
Backwards Steps Aren’t Unusual
Sven Mandel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
With gambling’s relationship with sport reaching something of a saturation point, it is perhaps no wonder that backwards steps are being taken. For the supporters of the gambling industry, they point to the fact that problem gambling has actually remained fairly steady, even whilst the number of gambling related sponsors increased. Citing his own study into the matter, Nottingham Trent University’s Mark Griffiths, who is an expert in behavioural addiction, said,
“Problem gambling has actually stayed the same, it’s still around half a per cent in this country. I’m not trying to minimise it, because that’s still tens of thousands of individuals. So there hasn’t actually been an increase in problem gambling, but what there has probably been a displacement.”
Whether it is a displacement or a full on reduction, there is no question that certain sports are moving away from the world of gambling sponsorship. Even darts, which has long had something of a reputation issue, has worked to move itself away from betting firms. At the start of 2022, the Professional Darts Corporation confirmed that it would be ending a 20-year run of a gambling firm being the main sponsor for its flagship competition, the World Darts Championship. Instead, it chose to look to online car buying website Cazoo, which signed a multi-year agreement with the governing body for the sport.
Not that the sport of darts doesn’t know about the debt that it owes the world of gambling. In 2003, when Ladbrokes became the sponsors for the World Darts Championship, the prize pool stood at £200,000. By the time Cazoo was confirmed as sponsors for the 2022 event, it had increased to £2.5 million. In other words, gambling companies had pumped money into the sport and it had gobbled it up willingly. Now, though, there is a feeling that darts, as with most other sports, would do well to look elsewhere for its money.
Equally As Troublesome Deals
The reality is that big sports need big name sponsors, largely thanks to the cash that they are able to provide. In recent times, one of the big question marks has been around the types of sponsors that are able to afford to give sports the huge sums that they need. Their is a keen sense of needing to balance the concerns of the community with the bulging nature of bank accounts that occur from being associated with community-unfriendly industries. As an example, it is interesting to note the concern of many around NFTs.
Non-Fungible Tokens have become a way of earning money for some sports people and clubs. This is inescapably linked to the likes of crypto currencies, with the two things being likened to a pyramid scheme by their critics. When Lionel Messi signed for Paris Saint-Germain, for example, part of his fee was paid in fan tokens, which is a form of crypto currency that allows their holders to vote on minor issues at the club. Such things are seen as a great way for clubs to make money, but come with critics of their own.
Equally, sports people have become involved in NFTs and have been widely criticised for doing so. Indeed, he entire world of Non-Fungible Tokens is not without its critics, with those that are widely against their usage comparing them to a Ponzi scheme. The question therefore becomes whether people think such deals are better or worse than associations with gambling companies. Obviously many will say that neither should be used to raise money for sports clubs, but the clubs themselves would feel that that is an unfair requirement.