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Betting sponsorship: sport’s next financial crisis

Football and darts will be hit hard by shake up of gambling advertising laws

Britain’s sports industry - already on its knees due to the impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic - is bracing for another financial crisis. 

In what is described by The Sunday Times as the “biggest shake-up of advertising in professional sport since tobacco promotion was outlawed”, the paper reports that gambling logos are set to be banned from all kits. 

Football is one of the biggest beneficiaries of sponsorship by gambling companies with £110m a year alone generated for clubs in the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) Championship.  

In the Premier League, eight of the 20 clubs are sponsored by betting firms - Burnley, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham and Wolves - while in the Championship, which is title sponsored by SkyBet, it’s 12 clubs. 

It’s not just football finances that will be affected. Sports such as darts, snooker and boxing will also be dealt a blow if the ban comes into play. 

Every player in the top ten of the Professional Darts Corporation wears gambling logos during big tournaments, the Sunday Times reports. While in snooker, many top players, including Ronnie O’Sullivan, wear waistcoats which feature the logos of betting sites. 

When would the ban start? 

A huge rise in “problem gamblers” has led to the review of Britain’s gambling laws and the advertising that surrounds the sector. According to The Telegraph there is a “rising unease” in the government over betting addiction and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “increasingly likely” to ban gambling sponsors on football shirts by the autumn. 

In what would be the most extensive review of the sector since 2005, sources close to talks with Downing Street say there is “determination at the top” of the government to “press ahead with reform”.

In August 2017 a study by the Gambling Commission found that 430,000 people in the UK were described as “problem gamblers” and there were concerns that the volume of TV adverts helped to fuel under-age betting.

Research published in May last year suggested that levels of gambling addiction could be “even higher than was previously thought and half of those with a problem are not getting the help they need”. A YouGov survey of 16,000 people commissioned by GambleAware estimated that up to 2.7% of adults in Britain were “problem gamblers”.

‘Worst possible timing’

With sports seeking alternative revenue streams amid the Covid-19 crisis, senior Whitehall figures say they are conscious of “the worst possible timing” of the review into gambling advertising. 

Clubs face “unprecedented financial chaos”, the Telegraph says, but according to campaigners the British public want to see a shake-up of laws. A Survation poll for Clean Up Gambling found that 51% back the banning of all advertising, sponsorship and promotion for gambling firms. Just 21% disagreed while the rest gave no opinion either way.

Campaigning Labour MP Carolyn Harris told the Daily Mirror a blanket ban on sports sponsorship by gambling firms has “got to happen”. She has also urged the government to go further, with further affordability checks and a complete end to newly-reformed “VIP schemes”.

Harris said: “It’s such a wide-ranging issue they can’t just put a sticking plaster on one thing and hope the rest will go away.”

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