Government Asks FA To Cancel Streaming Deal With Betting Companies
The FA announced in 2017 that it would no longer allow gambling firms to sponsor its events or use its media rights. This was however 6 months after it had already done a deal with IMG that allowed broadcast rights to be sold to bookmakers and since the start of the 2018-19 season Bet365 have been streaming FA Cup matches on their site.
Gambling is now firmly in the spotlight following the creation of the new Betting and Gaming Council a recent parliamentary group review and was also present in all major parties manifestos during the recent general election. The government on the back of this has therefore now called on the FA to reconsider its betting deal that will allow matches to be streamed by bookies until the 2024-2025 season.
What Has The FA Done & How Big Is The Problem
The FA has already gone a long way to reduce ties with bookies following the 2017 ban by enforcing tighter restrictions on players betting (with mixed results) along with a load of responsible gambling initiatives. However, the point remains that over 12 billion was on football last year, half of Premier League clubs have gambling sponsors and there have been numerous recent controversies and fines for clubs and players.
The fact is the FA doesn’t control either the Premier League, clubs or their TV rights and even a ban by the FA on betting sponsorship is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gambling and football. Authorities have begun to bring in measures to reduce gambling exposure to children, such as banning under-25’s in adverts and this may be having some effect, but largely the exposure of betting within sport remains high.
Bookies have gone someway to curbing exposure of gambling to children within football, with a self-imposed TV ban, increased levies to aid responsible gambling initiatives and new pledges to create a safer environment but this does not stop the exposure, especially to adults.
The FA have already said that they will:
“review this element of the media rights sales process ahead of tendering rights from the 2024-25 season”
But many are calling for them now to cancel the current rights deal entirely. This would certainly have a monetary cost to the FA and could lead to legal challenges.
Should Bet365 Be Able To Stream The FA Cup?
The deal as it is now allows Bet365 to broadcast all FA Cup matches except those that kick-off at 3pm on a Saturday, this, for example, meant 365 streamed 23 out of the 32 third round matches in January 2020.
In order to stream a match you either need to bet on it or have deposited in the previous 24 hours, this is largely where the problem lies as many feel this may encourage betting in order to watch the game where people don’t necessarily want to.
Although many matches are on free-to-air TV there are also matches on BT Sport, which many people do not have, or not on TV at all. Therefore, it is possible some people would feel they need to bet to be able to watch a game. There are also other potential problems, such as adults allowing minors to watch live bookie streams that could promote gambling. In addition there are those that see the money that companies like Bet365 and their owners earn and wonder if the FA should be furthering this.
On the other side of the argument it can be said that streaming of sports and football by bookies has been going on for over a decade and is not new. People have to pay fees to watch subscription TV anyway and a bookmaker streaming an event gives people more options to watch. The service is also a benefit to those that have deposited or genuinely bet on a game for other reasons and are therefore given the facility to watch, many of those would feel hard done by if the deal was revoked.
Streaming is also a very useful tool for many punters, especially those that bet in-play, who can get more information about how a match is developing by watching it. It could be argued that removing streaming actually makes it easier for the bookies to win in some cases.
Bet365 in their defense said that they do ‘not sponsor the FA or FA Cup’ or have a ‘commercial relationship’ with them and that customers are not obligated to bet in order to watch games, but can watch just by funding an account. They also point out that all users are verified that that are over 18 and that streaming can add value to users.
The debate is certainly one of the big topics of our time and there are many people both for and against the deal.
What Is The Government Saying?
Nicky Morgan, the (unelected) Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said that things have changed since the original contract was negotiated and that the FA should reconsider. Nigel Adam, the (elected) Sports minister added:
“The gambling landscape has changed since this deal was signed in early 2017. All sports bodies need to be mindful of the impact that problem gambling can have on the most vulnerable.”
This comes on the back of a general government drive to review gambling services in the UK, that may result in a new Gambling Act to replace the 2005 Act that is now seen as for an analogue age.
People are betting more online than ever before and the government, along with the new Betting and Gaming Council that replaced both the remote gaming authority and the association of British bookmakers, want to bring in new legislation to reflect this.
It is likely that sports broadcasts by betting companies will be addressed by the BGC and the government officially in due course.
Will This Lead To A Ban On Live Streaming Of All Sports?
It is possible that streaming activities by bookies will become more regulated in the near future, although and outright ban is unlikely. The fact is most streamed events are for sports outside the UK, such as foreign football leagues, international tennis and many minor sports that people would struggle to access elsewhere.
It is a balance between removing anything that would encourage unnecessary gambling vs maintaining peoples free will to bet as they wish and throws open the debate about the role of the state in controlling gambling.
Higher on the priority list right now for the government are recommendations to curb online gaming stakes, remove the ability to deposit to betting companies using a credit card and the availability of controversial VIP schemes.
It is also worth pointing out that many people access illegal streams online to watch sport, many of which bombard users with gambling adverts, as well as other unsavory things. Any review into the broadcasting of sport related to gambling should go beyond just bookmakers.