Anyone who keeps a close eye on the sports-betting scene in the UK will know that the debate around gambling sponsorship in football has picked up some serious steam this year. In a move many saw coming, the Premier League finally took the step to ban gambling sponsorships on shirts this past month, but many questions regarding the use of sponsors still remain, and many people, myself included, feel as though this move is a small gesture that may not have the impact that they would hope.
Betting and football in the UK are strongly linked. For many fans, placing an acca on a Saturday morning, only to have to rip it up and throw it in the bin after committing the sin of betting on the early kick-off, is all a part of the game. Many British football fans love to gamble, and for many, it’s a bit of fun that helps add a little bit of excitement to the day.
Of course, though, there is a much darker side to this, which has caused heated debates around the topic. The match-day experience is now heavily focused on betting, with advertising boards, match programs, and replay screens all featuring gambling logos.
This has led many to call for whistle-to-whistle bans on all gambling advertising, which would undoubtedly cost the league a lot of money. Similar bans have been in place for cigarette companies for a very long time, but these were never as lucrative as gambling sponsorships. These deals also allow gambling companies to reach their target audience instantly and are extremely valuable to them.
For many, the ban on gambling sponsorship will be seen as a first step towards better regulations. In my opinion, it is just as easy to see it as a fairly pointless move. While I think a lack of gambling sponsorships on shirts does remove immediate visibility, the fact that it can still be on the sleeves of shirts defeats the point.
A key part of the argument for the ban is that it prevents exposure to children. It may do this ever so slightly, but I don't doubt that most teams will still be running around with betting sponsorships on their arms within the next couple of years.
The announcement also confirmed that clubs were still free to advertise all around the stadium on advertising hoardings, programmes, and other areas. Banning it on the front of shirts may move the needle, but it does so to the tiniest degree.
What this move smells like, to me, is the Premier League jumping before they are pushed. The UK Gambling White Paper is set to be published very soon, and there is plenty to suggest that it may come down hard on gambling reform in sports. The Premier League's willingness to act now could put them in a stronger position later down the line and may help it avoid further restrictions. Removing the sponsors from the shirt may have some financial impact, but it will likely be minimal when all is said and done.
One of the most interesting comments made by the Premier League about the ban was that it would be looking to bring in a new model for responsible gambling sponsorship. The question, then, is, what exactly could this look like?
A genuine model that would see a continued relationship between the sponsors and the league that also promotes responsible gambling is no doubt possible, but you have to wonder how committed they are to the project and whether this is just a case of getting ahead of restrictions and signing from a hymn sheet.
The Premier League is also just one of four top divisions in the country, and the continued success of teams like Wrexham in the National League means you could argue there are now five. The EFL is much more reliant on the income generated from sponsorships, with the entire league being sponsored by SkyBet.
Any outright bans on gambling sponsorship would no doubt cause huge damage down the pyramid, and any newer models would have to take this into consideration. Everyone would need to work together to ensure that the financial interests of the game were protected.
The Premier League has been under a lot of pressure to tackle its gambling sponsorship issues, and this move feels like it is their attempt to silence their critics and get ahead of any imposed bans that could have been coming. The League looks much better if it imposes the ban on itself than if it is imposed by the government.
Do I think this is the first step in a line of moves that will radically change the exposure of gambling companies in football? No. I think that if the Premier League can help it, this will be the only major change it will make.
The focus for most of this article has been on the Premier League, though, and there are actually some moves that gambling companies could take to attempt to change their image. An involvement with football on a grass-roots level and more steps to promote responsible gambling could definitely help. The more cynical out there could point out that having the word FUN highlighted in the ‘when the fun stops stop’ campaign is slightly counter-intuitive, for example.
Whatever happens, the release of the UK White Paper is on the way, and the Premier League will hope no major changes are implemented. The timing of the announcement definitely raises a few eyebrows, and officials will be hoping that this move puts the argument to bed for a while. Somehow, I don’t think that is going to be the case.
This article delivers the thoughts and opinions of the author, and it doesn't represent the stance of GoodLuckMate.