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Football and Gambling: A Symbiotic Yet Complicated Relationship

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English football is characterized by an immensely powerful bond between players, fans, and clubs. Over the years, brands have been making moves to enmesh themselves into this three-way relationship by offering lucrative sponsorships to clubs and players alike. Gambling companies, in particular, have significantly increased their presence in football. According to Jackpotslayers Europe Guide, adverts by gambling brands currently dominate stadiums, merchandise, and matchday coverage.

How Gambling Brands Have Infiltrated Football

Gambling sponsorships have come a long in football. For years, broadcasters refused to air matches featuring sponsored teams, but that changed in 1983. When football stakeholders finally embraced sponsorships, gambling brands saw an opportunity to market themselves. Initially, gambling brands enticed audiences with pre-match and half-time ads.

Brands like Betway are sponsoring football teams such as West Ham United. The growing prominence of shirt sponsorships tipped the advertising balance in favor of gambling companies since they could now display their logos on team merchandise. Today, gambling advertisements are displayed on the shirts of nearly half of the teams in the Premier League. In the Championship, 75% of teams feature the logo of a gambling company on their jerseys.

The Complexities of the Relationship

Football gambling has coincided with the rise of social media. It’s no longer limited to bookmarkers’ shops since you can conveniently access gambling sites via the Internet 24/7. Already, there’s a national debate on the effects of gambling on the nation’s moral fabric. According to the Gambling Commission, the partnership with football clubs has normalised gambling. Thus, it’s no surprise that problem gambling is on the rise.

Experts also point out that the gambling industry’s relationship with football and its fans is lopsided, problematic, and pervasive. By brazenly advertising gambling brands on their shirts, clubs also risk alienating some of their fans.

The Pros and Cons of Gambling Sponsorships

Notably, the drawbacks of football gambling are often highlighted at the expense of its benefits. That said, here’s how gambling has benefited football:

Source of Income

The gambling industry provides football clubs and associations with an opportunity to generate sponsorship income. The 14 billion-pound industry has helped keep clubs afloat, thanks to lucrative sponsorship deals.

Betting companies invest millions of pounds in clubs. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, matchday revenue has taken a hit, forcing most clubs to rely on sponsorship deals with different companies, including betting operators.

Gambling Companies Have Improved Football Standards

Across Europe, the standard of football has improved over the past decade. To keep up with the competition, clubs ought to leverage all the help available to them. Annual gambling sponsorships are worth billions, and often get channeled towards improving training facilities and infrastructure, establishing academies, and supporting local community initiatives. Without gambling sponsorships, clubs that lack a solid fan base would have limited financial freedom.

Despite the massive investments that gambling companies have made in football, there’s still a lot of skepticism from fans and other stakeholders. There’s also a raging moral debate regarding the issue. Some of the concerns raised about gambling sponsorships in football include:

  • It normalizes gambling
  • Encourages problem gambling
  • Gives minors the incentive to gamble

Gambling companies argue that the display of their logos on shirts doesn’t weaken the nation’s moral fabric. For starters, they adhere to all regulations, including those related to the size of their logos on football shirts. Besides, tobacco and alcohol ads dominated the football landscape before gambling companies usurped them. They argue that such ads were by far even more detrimental.

What Does the Future Hold? 

Thanks to widespread public outcry, the House of Lords recently recommended a ban on sports sponsorships by gambling firms. A select committee of the house pointed out that the Gambling Act of 2005 excessively liberalized gambling sponsorships. Thus, new regulations are needed to protect consumers.

Apart from the ban on advertising on teams’ jerseys, the report also proposes a ban on matchday advertising both on and off the pitch by 2023. However, this has been described as a knee-jerk reaction that will push clubs to the verge of financial ruin.

Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, points out that gambling sponsorships are the lifeline of most clubs. Rather than banning these sponsorships, the government should review the 2005 Gambling Act and find a solution that suits all parties involved.

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