The world of football is preparing for a potentially huge financial blow thanks to a ban on sponsoring club jerseys for gambling. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the government will soon be overhauling the UK casino and bookmaker laws, and the option to have their logos on kits is reportedly on the chopping block Various sources in the gambling industry consider this to be very likely. The good news is that this shouldn’t affect Welsh clubs too directly, although there is no telling what impact such a dramatic change could have on the entire industry.
Sponsorship of games of chance in football has long been a hot topic and passionate arguments are being made on both sides. Among the anti-sponsorship viewers are prominent politicians like former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and activists like Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of the Clean Up Gambling advocacy group. Zarb cousin summed up many people’s feelings by describing players as “walking billboards for gambling companies” and as a concern about the vulnerability of children to betting site logos.
On the other side of the debate are those who think the whole problem is exaggerated – citing statistics suggesting problem gambling has remained low in recent history and warning that draconian measures could cause irreparable damage to football. The libertarian journalist and researcher Christopher Snowdon has called any ban “gratuitously sadistic.” That is, while Premiership teams have their choice of sponsorsA “ban” would create a ripple effect and reduce revenue from top to bottom. Clubs in the lower league will be hanging by a thread on empty terraces after just one year. “
Whichever way you look at the situation, the fact is that betting sites are pumping a lot of money into football. Eight Premier League clubs Gambling companies on their jerseys, while the English football league has Sky Bet as its main sponsor, with numerous clubs in the championship and in leagues 1 and 2 receiving financial rewards from jersey sponsors. According to an EFL statement last year, these lower divisions receive around £ 40m a season, which was a lifeline in the dark days of coronavirus restrictions and zero ticket sales.
Can we expect a profound impact on Welsh clubs?
Welsh clubs shouldn’t feel the effects of a ban on shirt sponsorship right away for the simple reason that they have already largely broken off such partnerships. Swansea City, for example, has already moved away from sponsoring betting. Last year there was a lot of fanfare than the club announced that Swansea University would be his new shirt sponsor after four consecutive seasons with betting logos on the players’ chests. This happened after one Report by a House of Commons Select Committee about gambling damage who suggested “there should be no gambling advertising in or near sports fields or venues.”
The move has been proudly proclaimed “the perfect partnership that embodies our club and our city” by Rebecca Edwards-Symmons, Swansea’s advertising director. It has also been hailed by the charity The Big Step as a decisive step against the “normalization of gambling in football”.
Last year, Newport County also gave up sponsoring its equipment for the betting website. In the past few seasons the club has made lucrative deals with the gaming companies Interbet and Paddy Power, but has since made the much-admired decision Instead, crowdfund a charity sponsor. Fans raised over £ 40,000 to cover the cost of the Alzheimer’s Society’s Cymru logo on the front of the Newport shirt, which is as undisputed as a partnership can get. The fact that the campaign also raised awareness of two other controversial charities – the anti-bullying organization Kidscape and the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF – only added to the benevolence across the company.
Then of course there is Cardiff City, which hasn’t had a betting website on its jersey since the Sbobet days a decade ago. Not the kit they use in competitive play, anyway – the Bluebirds recently did Adopt 888 Sport as their first workout apparel sponsor. While fans won’t actually see it on match days, the popular bookmaker’s branding is now tied to the club on a low level. Ken Choo, CEO of Cardiff City, welcomed the deal, saying he was “thrilled that we have partnered with a globally recognized brand like 888 Sport”.
While Welsh football has been way ahead of the game in securing sponsorship related to non-gambling, Cardiff’s 888 deal means some revenues will be at risk if the government sets the law. And of course Cardiff, Swansea and Newport all play in the English Football League with the Sky Bet title sponsorship mentioned above, which means they are all indirectly linked to the gambling world anyway.
How popular is the legislation elsewhere?
The proposed stricter legislation was pushed back. An EFL statement stressed that the league and Sky Bet are “working together to promote responsible gambling, with players from all three divisions wearing sleeve badges to encourage fans to think about their gambling.”
Neil Banbury – a senior figure in the Kindred Group, which controls brands like Unibet and 32Red – has confirmed that sentiment and expressed his belief that jersey sponsorship plays an important role in actively promoting responsible gaming. He’s also argued that changes in the regulations should instead focus on ensuring that companies that sponsor kits either have a sizeable UK customer base or are seriously trying to build such a customer base. “If you look at the Premier League, the vast majority of the gambling industry brands that are on jersey fronts certainly have no interest in UK customers,” he said recently said“And maybe that’s one area where there can be some moderation.”
Anti-gambling sponsorship activists would likely see Banbury’s statement as an example of a betting website that is distracting Bigwig from the problem. Ultimately, however, it remains to be seen whether there will be any new rules, whether there will be a general ban or a more nuanced approach, and what overall impact this will have on football in Wales and beyond. Boris Johnson and other high-profile figures are reportedly determined to “move reform forward”. From the Premier League to the smallest clubs in England and Wales, everyone will feel the change.