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The Scottish Professional Football League has announced what it has hailed as a “record-breaking” five-year title sponsorship deal with William Hill. Reported by the BBC here the betting company takes over from car showroom company Cinch, which had been the league sponsor of the Scottish Premiership, Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 for three years, writes David Little, a partner in our Corporate and Commercial department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases, too.

Football in the UK, including also the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL), is more than just a sport; it’s a cultural phenomenon. With millions of fans and billions in revenue, the sport’s financial ecosystem is vast and diverse. Among the most significant revenue streams for football clubs are sponsorships, and in recent years, betting companies have become some of the most prominent sponsors. However, this relationship between football and betting is fraught with moral complexities that are increasingly coming under scrutiny.

The influx of money from betting companies into football is hard to ignore. Nearly half of the Premier League clubs and a substantial number in the EFL have front-of-shirt sponsorship deals with betting firms. The financial support from these companies provides crucial funds that help clubs compete at the highest levels, invest in infrastructure, and nurture talent. For many clubs, especially those not in the upper echelons of the Premier League, these sponsorships can be the difference between financial stability and economic struggle.

The ethical dilemma

Despite the financial benefits, the ethical implications of betting sponsorships are significant. Here are some key areas of concern:

Betting can lead to addiction, with severe consequences for individuals and their families. The ease of access to online betting platforms, often promoted through football sponsorships, exacerbates this problem. Football, with its broad and diverse audience, including impressionable young fans, becomes a vehicle that can inadvertently promote gambling. This raises serious questions about the social responsibility of clubs towards their supporters.

Addressing the influence of gambling in football, the charity Action on Addiction quoted Sally Benton, Forward Trust’s Executive Director of Fundraising and Communication, highlighting the urgency of the situation. “Football needs to find a way to sustain the game without the need for harmful advertising revenue,” she emphasized. “We know times are difficult for many clubs after Covid, but the game needs to wake up to gambling addiction, with governing bodies helping clubs to move away from the powerful influence of gambling in football.”

When betting companies sponsor football teams, gambling becomes normalised within the context of the sport. Club jerseys, seen as symbols of pride and loyalty, prominently displaying betting logos can send a message that gambling is a routine and acceptable part of life. This normalisation can have long-term impacts, particularly on younger fans who may grow up equating the excitement of football with the thrill of betting.

There’s also the potential conflict of interests to consider. Football betting can sometimes lead to match-fixing and corruption. While there are stringent regulations and oversight in place, the close relationship between betting companies and football clubs can create environments where unethical practices could potentially thrive. The integrity of the sport must be preserved, and these associations can sometimes cast a shadow of doubt over its fairness.

The debate over betting sponsorships is not new, and it has led to several responses from different stakeholders. There have been calls for stricter regulations on betting sponsorships. The UK government and regulatory bodies like the Gambling Commission are increasingly scrutinising the relationship between sports and gambling. Proposals have been made to ban or limit betting sponsorships, particularly those that are prominently displayed on team jerseys.

Some clubs have started to distance themselves from betting sponsors. For instance, certain teams have chosen to forgo lucrative deals in favour of sponsorships from other sectors. These decisions often come from a desire to align the club’s values with broader societal concerns, emphasising their commitment to community welfare over financial gain.

Fan groups and community organizations have also voiced their concerns. Campaigns like “The Big Step,” which advocates for the end of gambling advertising in football, reflect the growing unease among fans about the sport’s relationship with betting. The voices of fans, who are the lifeblood of football, are crucial in this debate and are increasingly being heard.

The Big Step, is a campaigning organisation gaining increasing momentum to end all gambling advertising and sponsorship in football, led by people harmed by gambling. It forms part of Gambling with Lives, a community of families bereaved by gambling-related suicide.

As Sky and others announced in April 2023, English Premier League clubs have agree to withdraw gambling sponsorships on front of shirts, with an estimated value of £60m per annum. The change will begin at the start of the 2026/27 season. The relationship between sport and betting companies is a complex one, characterised by significant financial benefits but also profound ethical challenges. As professional in particular sport continues to grapple with these issues, it must strive to find a balance that upholds the integrity and values of fair play while addressing the very real social concerns associated with gambling. The path forward will likely require a combination of regulatory measures, club-level initiatives, and active engagement with fans and communities to ensure that football remains a source of joy and inspiration, free from the shadows of ethical compromise.

 

Contact our Sports Law and Corporate and Commercial expert

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team and also Head of Sports Law. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB476 on either 07968 027343 or, 020 7631 4141 or email: company@bishopandsewell.co.uk.

The above is accurate as at 10 June 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Category: Blog, News | Date: 12th Jun 2024


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