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Betting And Sports Sponsorship, Is Gambling Sponsorship Vital For Sport, Can It Be Replaced, Will It Be Banned?

betting sponsor on a football shirtSport is a part of life that’s constantly evolving. We see that on a regular basis, such as when technology is introduced in order to help the officials get as many decisions right as possible. Whether it’s the Video Assistant Referee in football or HawkEye in tennis, we can actively witness the ways in which the top events evolve on a yearly, if not monthly, basis. That is in spite of the fact that we often see sports as being stuck in their ways. Modern football, as an example, can trace its roots back to the end of the nineteenth century, so it’s understandable why some people might feel as though the current game remains close to the one that was played back then. Yet that’s obviously nonsensical given that everything, from the material the football is made out of through to the shape of the pitches themselves, has changed almost beyond recognition.

It’s not just football that that’s the case with, either. If you pick a sport such as snooker, that’s as close to the original format of the game as you’re likely to find, the referees nowadays can use television to ensure that they are replacing the balls exactly where they should be rather than just in an approximate position if a player asks their opponent to re-take a missed shot. However, of all of the various evolution’s in sport that take place virtually every single day, the one that we don’t often think about is one that takes place away from the field of play. The financial evolution of even the least followed sport has got to the point that sponsor’s markings can be seen virtually everywhere. One of the biggest industries to get involved in sponsoring sports is also one of the most controversial of recent times – the betting industry. Just how intertwined is the world of betting with sports sponsorship? Moreover, is that a major issue?

How Vital Is Gambling Sponsorship For Sport?

betting sponsor at a football match example

This is a little bit like the question about how long is a piece of string. Certainly the extent to which betting and sports are two mutually beneficial industries is such that to separate them as entities is virtually impossible. According to Nielsen, for example, the investment in sports sponsorship from betting companies increased by 170% between 2011 and 2016.

In 2013, Ofcom released a report into gambling advertisements and found that around ninety-thousand had been aired in 2005, but that this had increased to just shy of one-and-a-half million by 2012. In the six years from 2006 to 2012, television adverts for casinos, sports betting and bingo providers had increased by five-hundred percent. That’s suggestive of an industry that has found a niche, even if it doesn’t overtly provide a link between gambling and the world of professional sport.

The big question, of course, is about where the betting sponsorship money tends to go. After all, ‘sport’ is a vague word given the sheer number of disciplines that have found an audience. According to a 2016 report by Repucom, a Nielsen Sports subsidiary, around £100 million was spent by the betting industry on sports that year, with £80 million of it being invested in football. That increase seemed to be largely down to the the explosion of online bookmakers and an increased interest from the Asian market. We’ve written specifically about football and betting sponsors elsewhere on the site, so won’t go into too much detail on the front here as there’s no point in repeating the same information.

betting sponsors of horse racing

When it comes to looking at other sports, perhaps the next one on the list in terms of popularity with betting companies is horse racing. Indeed, the betting industry got its first sports sponsorship deal in place in 1957 when William Hill sponsored the Ebor Festival at York Racecourse.

In September of 2017, the Jockey Club confirmed that it had extended its sponsorship deal with Betfair for the fifteen racecourses that its responsible for around the UK until 2019. Betfair isn’t the only company that has a sponsorship in place with some aspect of the horse racing industry, of course. A quick look at the calendar for the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 will reveal that every single day of the meeting had a race that was sponsored by a betting company like Unibet or Coral. That’s to say nothing of the advertising hoardings all around Cheltenham Racecourse branded by the likes of Betway.

betting sponsorship in snookerFrom 1969 to 2005, all but two of the Snooker World Championships were sponsored by companies from the tobacco industry. After legislation was introduced in 2003 to stop tobacco firms from sponsoring sporting events the competition needed to turn elsewhere, though Embassy were allowed to continue their sponsorship of it until 2005. The obvious place to turn for snooker was towards the gambling industry and from 2006 until 2008 took on the role. They were superseded by Betfred from 2009 until 2012, with Betfair and Dafabet also taking over sponsoring duties for a time.  Again, that’s not necessarily representative of the entire industry, but when betting companies sponsor the biggest event within a particular sport’s calendar it is entirely reasonable to assume that they have a financial investment that they’ll want to see pay off.

Even sports like darts, that clearly has a following but will never be able to boast the same level of interest as the likes of football or horse racing, have a close relationship with the betting industry. Head over to the website of the Professional Darts Corporation and you’ll find that virtually every single event that they host during the year is sponsored by a betting company.  From the Betway World Cup of Darts through to the Unibet World Grand Prix, you’re unlikely to be able to attend a darts meeting without having betting company adverts thrust in your face. At the time of writing, four of the top ten darts players in the world have adverts for betting companies on their shirts. It is almost impossible to find a sport played at a professional level that doesn’t have financial links to betting companies in some form or another nowadays.

Can Betting Sponsors Be Replaced?

betway sponsors of west ham

According to an Australian Independent Sport Panel report from 2009, professional sports are now ‘reliant’ on various sponsorship means in order to deliver a full programme of events across the course of a year. Such is the nature of money in sport, the sponsorship deals are used in various ways depending on what it is that’s being sponsored. If it’s a football club, for example, then that money will likely be spent on improving the playing squad, developing the stadium and other structural improvements to areas such as training facilities. If it’s an event or a sport in general that’s sponsored, on the other hand, then you’ll likely find that that money drips down to other aspects of the sport such as the grass roots level.

When the government confirmed that it would consider making a cut to the maximum stake available on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, companies such as Ladbrokes suggested that they would consider reducing the amount of sponsorship money they spent on sports in response.  They made the threat because the gambling companies believe that a reduce in income from FOBTs will result in the need to close shops and cut overheads in other areas. A Ladbrokes spokes person said, “Sports sponsorship is a two-way street, yes we get exposure but it also helps sports finance their entire structures right down to grass-roots funding”.

The interesting thing that each sport will need to deal with on an individual basis, should some sort of ban come in on sponsorships form betting companies, is just how much of an affect it will have on that sport. In horse racing, for example, a 10% levy on bets placed on races is collected by the Horserace Levy Betting Board and distributed around the industry. It’s then used for the likes of prize money, the development of racecourses and for the improvement of equine veterinary science. If other sports we’ve mentioned, like darts and snooker, look at it and fear that they’re too dependent on the money that gambling sponsorship brings in for them then they’ll have to look elsewhere for that income stream. They had to do exactly that when the aforementioned tobacco sponsorship ban came into effect in 2005.

The answer to the question about whether or not betting sponsors can be replaced isn’t an easy one to give definitively, therefore. Yet there’s also no question that some sports will be able to replace the lost revenue far more easily than others. The head of Deloitte’s Sport’s Business Group, Dan Jones, told CNBC that American sports are envious of football and the fact that ‘nothing unites the world sport-wise like football’ because of the amount of money that it can bring in. If a decision was made to ban or curtail the financial influence of betting companies, therefore, it’s unlikely that football would suffer too much.

Is A Gambling Sponsorship Ban In Sport Likely?

no gambling signThe main reason that a ban on tobacco advertising was introduced in the first place was because of health issues. The link between smoking and cancer is unarguable, meaning that there was a moral responsibility to introduce a blanket ban on something so dangerous in such a visible place in society. The question mark remains over whether there is the same moral responsibility over betting. In 2017, the Gambling Commission confirmed that the number of ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK had risen to 400,000, with two million people in total ‘at risk’ of developing a problem.

That’s obviously not a number that the gambling industry will be proud of, but given the UK population is around sixty-six million it means that around 3% of the country is at risk of a problem and 0.6% would be described as being ‘addicted’ to gambling. It’s far more likely, therefore, that the industry will introduce changes of its own volition in order to avoid any sort of ban being introduced.

The chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, Clive Hawkswood, told the Telegraph newspaper that the industry would be ‘mad not to take notice of that growing background noise of concern’.  An independent sponsorship consultant named Nigel Currie told the same paper that the gambling industry ‘seems to be getting away with anything’. Controls on what they can ‘get away with’ are therefore likely to come in before a large-scale ban is considered.

Is The Relationship Between Betting And Sport Healthy?

betting sponsors of football teams

All of which begs the question, is the relationship that the betting industry has with the world of sport a healthy one? After all, the extent to which the two world are intertwined is only growing with each passing year. The answer to the question most likely involves considering what you personally think is ‘healthy’ when it comes to business relationships. At the moment both sides of the relationship are served equally well, with sports leagues, organisations and participants gaining financial assistance and the gambling companies that are giving it to them gaining exposure of the highest order in return. Yet the forgotten figures in the argument are the sports fans who are unquestionably being influenced by the increased exposure.

According to the Football Associations rules, youth teams cannot wear anything that features sponsorship from a product that is ‘detrimental to the welfare, health or general interests of young persons’.  That means that your kits cannot have gambling sponsors on them, yet young people will watch their idols run around in kits with gambling firms’s names all over them. It’s a grey area for sure, with no obvious or easily conclusive answer. Certainly research done by Robin Ireland and Professor Gerda Reith led them to the conclusion that gambling and sponsorship of sports is a public health issue.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship develops in the future, especially if companies begin to make changes to reduce the need for outside interference.

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