If you’ve watched Premier League football this season, there’s no doubt that you’ll have seen a betting company's logo planted on a team’s shirt. That’s because half of Premier League teams have betting company logos on their kit.
Head further down the leagues and betting companies are even more visible. 17 out of the 24 clubs in the Championship – a league sponsored by Sky Bet, no less – also have gambling logos adorned on their jerseys. This means that 27 of England’s top 44 clubs have a betting company on their shirt, ensuring that gambling is an ever-present feature on match days and broadcast to millions across the UK and around the globe.
Betting companies are now an unmissable fixture in football across the UK and it’s a serious problem plaguing the domestic game. Why? Because the consistent presence of gambling companies is creating an incredibly toxic influence off the pitch – particularly for the next generation of the country.
Shirt sponsorship is normalising betting among young fans who are seeing the game through a much more impressionable lens. A Gambling Commission audit in 2018 recorded 55,000 children aged between 11 and 18 were considered to be “problem gamblers” and that more children admitted to placing a bet over a week than consuming alcohol or taking drugs.
In the UK it is estimated that approximately 430,000 people are suffering from compulsive gambling. This number has grown dramatically over recent years and can be attributed to a variety of factors including both individual and societal economic downturn and 24 hour access to gambling sites via mobile and digital platforms. But the increased presence of gambling companies – be it on the high street, in television and online advertising or on football shirts – is the most prevalent factor having a dramatic influence on the rise of compulsive gambling in this country.
Gambling is now inherently linked to how frequently we see companies sponsoring sides in the most-watched league in the world. The regularity in which gambling companies are seen plastered on sporting heroes chests is made completely normal, leading to an incredibly problematic and dangerous precedent being set for the next generation.
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, spoke earlier this year to The Athletic on the issues of children growing up with gambling so prominent in football: “Kids can play on the video game FIFA, for example, and see the gambling sponsors on the shirt. You could have kids at age three already being conditioned to it and having gambling companies normalised.”
The following year, The Guardian reported in 2019 that a total of £14.4 billion was lost by people betting in the UK between April 2017 and March 2018, up from £13.8 billion the previous year. Millions of fans across the UK and all over the world are being exposed to companies profiting from problem gambling, usually from people who cannot afford to be doing it. Put simply, it’s ruining lives.
Those extortionate figures, which see betting companies profit off gamblers, has lead to them becoming one of the most dominant economic forces in the football sphere, with the combined income from betting partnerships being around £70 million-a-season in the Premier League alone.
Championship side Stoke City are dependent on gambling for their financial security. Owned by betting company Bet365, with Bet 365’s CEO the club’s Vice Chairman, Stoke’s stadium is also named the Bet 365, while the company’s logo is on the team’s shirts.
Derby County, also in the second tier, struck a deal with 32Red, their gambling company shirt sponsor, to help fund the signing and salary of England legend Wayne Rooney on a deal which reportedly approached the six-figure mark per-week – unprecedented figures absolutely unheard of in the division prior to the deal.
While it will be hard to replace the sort kind of income betting companies are providing for team’s across all divisions of English football, the time has come for clubs to innovate and find new revenue streams away from gambling.
Italy and Turkey have already banned gambling companies from sponsoring football shirts, with La Liga clubs also due to follow suit next from next season. Spanish Minister for Consumer Affairs Alberto Garzón is calling on gambling advertising across TV, radio and other video media outlets to be limited to one hour per day between 1am and 5am due to “a shared concern about the increase of gambling in the lives of young generations as a form of leisure”. The new laws will create a blanket ban on betting sponsorships placed on kits and in stadiums in La Liga from next season.
This is what is also expected to happen domestically, and it’s been long overdue. Some companies – such as GVC, the parent company of Ladbrokes and Coral – have already withdrawn its sponsorship in football. GVC chief executive Kenny Alexander wants a wider crackdown from the rest of the industry: “I think it needs to be seriously cut down. Is the industry too much in the face of the consumer at the moment? Is there too much TV advertising, is there too much sponsorship? I think that is undoubtedly the case and something I feel should be looked at.”
While betting sponsors are reportedly set to be banned from Premier League shirts in the not-too-distant future, the good news is that the signs are pointing to a government crackdown on the issue. The Football Association will reportedly soon be banning any gambling company from sponsoring football teams and advertising their brand on football shirts – but it’s been long overdue.
Players and clubs across the country will do positive work in the community yet – inadvertently or not – be poster boys for an industry that preys on the most vulnerable. Football’s response to BLM and the #PlayersTogether movement have shown the game is willing to accept its responsibility to make the world a better place. While seeing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of shirts was an empowering sight, the game must now look at the sponsors on the front of its shirts and put that right once and for all.
A House of Lords Select Committee report recently recommended that Premier League clubs should not be allowed to have betting firms on their shirts, while also stating that sponsors on Championship club shirts should be phased out by 2023.
The report said removing betting sponsorship entirely would “not unduly harm Premier League clubs” but it would very probably have a serious effect on smaller clubs.
“We therefore think they should be given time, perhaps three years, to adapt to the new situation. They would not be allowed in that time to enter into new sponsorship contracts with gambling companies, but any existing contracts could continue until they terminate, and clubs would have time to seek alternative sources of sponsorship.”
Alongside the £70 million-a-season contribution to Premier League clubs, The English Football League (EFL) has reported that the gambling sector contributes £40m a season to the league and its clubs – with the financial problems of the coronavirus pandemic highlighting that the “significant contribution is as important now as it has ever been”.
With both The Premier League and EFL understanding their responsibility to prevent gambling exposure to its masses of young fans, the plans for life without gambling sponsors is now firmly in place – with new laws set to come into effect within the next few years, perhaps even months.
Asked how confident she was that the law would change in this area, Carolyn Harris remained adamant that change was coming soon. She recently told The Guardian: “It’s one of the most obvious things to do and all the groups who have reported or commented on this have said it is an area [ministers] need to tackle immediately. So I’m quite confident that will happen.”
The deeply-rooted association between football and gambling has needed fixing for a long time – and a crucial step in removing the normalisation between the pair is close to being enacted.