In the Disney animated film “Beauty and the Beast”, a prince is cursed to have the appearance of a hideous beast until he learns to love and earn someone’s love. Everybody in the village near the castle he lives in sees him as an enraged monster who can only bring suffering to all. Eventually, a village girl falls in love with the beast, putting an end to the curse. And, as any other love story produced by Disney, they live happily ever after.
In the football industry, the beautiful game fell in love with a cursed beast: betting companies. Whilst society may see them as monsters who will tear apart families and bring misery to communities, the football industry perceived an opportunity to financially grow if managed correctly. So far some big leagues seem quite happy with the arrangement.
Some people may still see negative aspects in betting, but the increasing proximity of football with this economic activity minimized the stigma that surrounded gambling for centuries. Usually, this proximity has been accompanied by regulatory frameworks and measures from governments, member associations and private entities to prevent crimes and protect the integrity of sport, which are essential for a safe and lucrative functioning of the industry.
The investment of betting companies in football clubs exponentially increases as the years go by. Nowadays, it is quite rare to enter any football-related environment (stadiums, club facilities, stores, websites, etc.) and not see any gambling advertisements. From a commercial perspective, football clubs and betting companies share a synergetic relationship where they feed one another. Whilst the majority of other companies that invest in football do not relate with the sport at all, betting companies are willing to invest millions in exchange for an efficient instrument to reach their target audience and financially explore the potential partnerships with clubs to increase the volume of bets.
The scope of this article is to briefly analyse the types of partnerships some clubs have formed with betting companies in the last years.
The development of the global football industry over the past decades shows how betting companies are gradually dominating the shirt sponsorship market for clubs. One example that makes it clear is the evolution of clubs’ shirt sponsorship in the English Premier League from 1992 to 2019:
There are three interesting aspects regarding betting sponsors in English football to be observed – specifically in the first two divisions (i.e. Premier League and the Championship):
- 10 out of the 20 Premier League clubs have a betting kit sponsor;
- 17 out of the 24 Championship clubs have a betting kit sponsor;
- None of the ‘Big 6’ clubs of the Premier League have a betting kit sponsor.
With that in mind, and even though all Premier League clubs have some kind of partnership with gambling companies, it is reasonably fair to conclude that the recent growth of betting in football is beneficial for medium and smaller clubs to seek the reduction of the financial gap with bigger clubs and ultimately improve the competitive balance in English football.[i]
La Liga clubs are also gradually opening their doors to gambling sponsors in Spain:
As previously mentioned, betting firms are willing to invest a lot of money to advertise their brands in high-profile football competitions in order to reach their target audience. The higher the synergy between the products offered, the wider are the possibilities of partnerships.
Perimeter Boards Advertisement
Equally to shirt sponsorship, perimeter board advertising provides a powerful way to increase brand awareness and enhance the loyalty of supporters, being within the stadium or through live broadcasting. Associating with the fans’ passion with a brand generates sales for both club and betting company.
Naming Rights in Stadiums
The owners of Stoke City FC are also the same owners of Bet365, the world’s largest online gambling company. So why not mix it all up?
In 2016, the club entered into a six-year stadium naming rights agreement and announced that previously called Britannia Stadium would be, as of the 2016/2017 season, renamed to “Bet365 Stadium”. The deal also included plans for developing the stadium and to increase its capacity.[i]
Live Broadcast Advertising
Besides direct investment in clubs, there are other possibilities for clubs to benefit from betting firms in football. One example is live broadcasting ads.
Broadcasters usually sell part of their broadcasting time to advertisers. The competition generated in this market ultimately increases the football broadcasting rights value, which is the one of the main sources of revenue for clubs.
Notwithstanding, gambling ads during live televised sports are suffering resistance in some countries – the so-called “whistle-to-whistle ban”[i] –, mainly to protect children and problem gamblers from the potential threats of gambling.
Streaming Rights for Betting Websites
Betting companies are also interested in acquiring streaming rights of football matches for live broadcasting in their sites. Nonetheless, the selling of those rights to gambling firms are restricted in some countries.
The Football Association is facing severe criticism for allowing Bet365 acquire the exclusive rights to stream FA Cup matches on a “bet to view” basis – which allows fans to watch if they place a bet.[i] Morally right or not, the fact is that betting companies are willing to compete with big broadcasters in order to provide the best product for their client-bettors.
Brazilian clubs, for instance, are looking to sell their international streaming rights for betting companies.[ii] New sources of revenue are always welcome, especially when that includes the internationalisation of Brazilian football as a product.
The ‘Rooney Deal’
In 2019, Derby County FC announced the signing of Wayne Rooney, former England captain. Quite a massive signing by the Rams’ standards.
So far, so good. However, a simple – but curious – fact surfaced: Rooney got the shirt number 32.
Derby’s main sponsor is 32Red, a British online casino. Just coincidence?
In fact it wasn’t. Later on, the club also stated that “on the back of” the former England international joining, it has secured a record-breaking sponsorship deal with 32Red. It seems that the dots are explicitly connected now.
Such a deal was questioned by many people. Former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams said that those sponsorship deals should be stopped. In another statement, the UK Gambling Commission manifested its concern with such arrangements being undertaken in a socially responsible manner. [i]
Huddersfield Kit Hoax
When Huddersfield Town AFC announced a new partnership with Paddy Power (Irish bookmaker) for the 2019/2020 season, the fans could not imagine what would happen with their beloved club’s shirt:
After huge repercussions and thousands of hate comments in social media, Paddy Power later announced that it was all a prank to attract the spotlights to their ‘Save Our Shirt’ initiative, which aimed clean kits for the season:[i]
Subsequently, Huddersfield Town was fined £50,000 for violating the FA Kit and Advertising Regulations when they wore the sponsored shirts in a friendly match. But it is conceivable the deal with Paddy Power covered that…
Near the end of “Beauty and the Beast”, Belle says to the film’s antagonist Gaston: “he is no monster, Gaston, you are!”. As you may have noticed so far, gambling companies are still referred to as monsters by many people, with some bringing good arguments and others with baseless assumptions.
The gambling industry has indeed to be well-regulated and protected from possible harms connected to betting. In every economic activity there will be problems, people to be safeguarded and criminals who try to fix the system for their own benefit, but that should not define a whole industry.
Despite these analogies, we are not in a Disney movie and real love stories are not always perfect. Knowing that, it seems that football is doing better with betting investment than without it. The range of possible partnerships is huge – those presented here are just a few – and football as an entertainment business should take advantage of it, if it wants to live happily ever after.
Udo is an attorney graduated from PUC-RJ (2017) and holds a Masters in International Sports Law from ISDE (2019). He works at Bichara e Motta Advogados in sports law, civil litigation, arbitration and dispute resolution. In 2019 he did a temporary internship at Lewis Silkin and advised World in Motion in London.
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- [i] Fooled you! How the world reacted to our fake shirt hoax. Available in: https://news.paddypower.com/football/2019/07/19/fake-shirt-hoax/
- [i] Wayne Rooney: Ex-England captain’s Derby deal raises more questions about football’s links to gambling. Available in: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/49265227
- [i] Revealed: seven UK betting companies are live-streaming FA Cup games. Available in: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/jan/08/fa-cup-seven-uk-betting-companies-streaming-games
- [ii] CBF and clubs conclude first phase for the selling of their international rights. Available in: https://www.cbf.com.br/futebol-brasileiro/noticias/campeonato-brasileiro-serie-a/cbf-e-cnc-concluem-primeira-fase-da-venda-de-direitos-internacionais
- [i] Gambling firms agree ‘whistle-to-whistle’ television sport advertising ban. Available in: https://www.bbc.com/sport/46453954
- [i] Stoke City FC Strike Bet365 Deal Over Stadium Naming Rights. Available in: https://www.stokecityfc.com/news/stoke-city-fc-strike-bet365-deal-over-stadium-naming-rights
- [i] SECKELMANN, Udo. “Hedging your bets: how to regulate Brazil’s multi-billion-dollar sports betting market”. Available in: https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/item/hedging-your-bets-how-to-regulate-brazil-s-multi-billion-dollar-sports-betting-market