Although sports have reportedly been around for 3,000+ years, historians say sports betting has only been around since the mid-20th century. Recently, sports betting has seen a crackdown on regulations in some parts of the world because some countries or citizens perceive it as organized crime. In other parts of the world, it is seen as a revenue stream opportunity that, in return, provides services for citizens. In general, sports betting has become very commonplace with the ability to place bets from the comfort of your home instead of needing to go to an in-person sportsbook. To date, there are more than 45 legal online gambling platforms and almost twice that amount of illegal platforms. Despite this boom of online sportsbooks and an increase in their popularity, not all sports leagues are welcoming them with open arms.
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 season, gambling companies began infiltrating the Premier League clubs with lucrative amounts of money to be the title sponsor for ten clubs. These clubs earned a record £349.1 million in sponsorship deals during the season, a rise of more than 10% from the previous season. The prevalence of these companies has increased in the second division where 17 out of 24 club jerseys showcase a betting logo. This means that 27 out of the 44 top clubs in England - more than half of the clubs - have betting companies as main sponsors. None of the top six teams currently have gambling sponsors - their current sponsorship deals have generated enough revenue to keep them comfortable without pursuing this slightly more controversial path. However, the remaining 14 clubs need to find deals that will bring them the most possible money so that they can compete with the top clubs. That is exactly what West Ham United did when it struck a deal with Malta-based Betway for £10 million pounds. The most recent partnerships created this year were Everton’s deal with Stake.com and newly promoted Bourmoueth’s collaboration with Dafabet. Deals like these are providing clubs with the funds they need to sign talented players from around the world, elevating their status in the league.
Since soccer is the most popular sport in the world, it comes as no surprise that the most popular sport is also the most bet on. According to Sportradar’s betting and sports data analysis, about 70% of the world’s betting (both legal and illegal) comes from gambling on soccer. Although the World Cup witnesses the biggest betting volume, the Premier League is not foreign to gambling as sportsbook sponsors are among the ruling sponsors in the league. With the Premier League season only one month away, the U.K. government recently announced that it is looking to halt all online gambling business within the country. This news has serious implications for the Premier League as half of the teams in the top division are currently sponsored by gambling companies. The second-tier English Football League, whose title sponsor is a sports betting corporation - Sky Bet, announced that if the bans were to be imposed, the clubs within the league would lose north of £47 million per year.
Much of the pushback the league is setting stems from the U.K. government’s efforts to crack down on the promotion of gambling among the youth. In 2005, the Gambling Act in the U.K. was passed which dictates the protocols for all casinos, poker, sports betting, and lottery betting. Since then, it is estimated that there are around 24 million people betting on various games. In 2020, the Department for digital, culture, media, and Sport (DCMS) launched a review of the gambling laws amid the concern over youth exposure through various advertisements and football sponsorship. The reported changes that are under consideration are a betting limit on online and mobile casinos of £2.40 to £6 per wager, a ban on games that allow users to lose lots of money very quickly such as slots, and a ban on free bets.
Back in the states, there is the potential for the opposite to happen. Now that 19 states have legalized sportsbooks and gambling, these companies are starting to infiltrate professional and collegiate teams by adding in-person sportsbooks into stadiums and nearby buildings. Citi Field (New York Mets), Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), and Tiger Stadium (Louisiana State University) are among the many teams that have added gambling companies as sponsors. Professional sports leagues in the US are almost starting to welcome gambling company sponsorships as the NFL has partnerships with a dozen of sportsbooks and fills broadcasts with popular commercials from Draftkings, Fanduel, and Caesars.
Back across the pond, a decision on this voluntary ban will be decided by July 21. For the ban to be in place, 14 out of the 20 teams will have to come to an agreement. The sponsors won’t be banned right away but rather over a three-year phase. The Premier League had suggested a compromise to the DCMS in which instead of an outright ban on betting partnerships, which would see company logos completely removed from the front of team jerseys, the logos would remain on the sleeves where it is not as visible to the viewers. It is reported that the DCMS minister is considering the proposal but nothing is set in stone yet.
While Premier League Clubs may be hurting from this revenue change, the ultimate goal is to change society for the better. Being exposed to gambling at such a young age in the U.K. can be very detrimental in the long run. Commercials don’t often lean into responsible betting messaging, and viewers don’t often see the negative impact that gambling can have on someone. An interesting alternative approach to this subject matter that we’ve seen is with Sportradar, a sport technology company, who is using a lead-by-example approach to sports gambling. They’re launching a program that supports athletes in responsible gambling - with the core focus being education and prevention of gambling addictions. The program consists of on-demand virtual visits, pre-recorded webinars, and in-person workshops. With athletes being such strong role models to the youth, Sportradar is hoping that this program will trickle down and set a positive tone for sports gambling.
With all this being said, it is important to recognize when regulations are a crticial necessity, regardless of the positive benefit of extra funds. Irrespective of how this vote turns out, it will behoove leagues and teams to consider all angles when entertaining future partners, ensuring that they are handling sponsorships, and the inherent message that comes with them, responsibly.