Betting sponsorship in English soccer a target for Parliamentary committee
A committee from the UK Parliament's House of Lords has called for all existing front-of-shirt sponsorship deals between clubs in English soccer’s top-tier Premier League and betting companies to be phased out.
It has also recommended that gambling firms not be allowed to agree such deals in future.
In the ongoing 2019-20 season, 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs have gambling firms occupying the prime spot on their shirts. This is one more than in the previous campaign, and two more than in 2017-18.
The cross-party committee, which has made the recommendation as part of a wider special inquiry into the gambling industry, has also called for the 17 (out of 24) clubs in the second-tier Championship that have front-of-shirt deals with gambling partners to change these arrangements by 2023.
Sky Bet is the title sponsor for the three lower-league divisions, including the Championship.
The cross-party committee also proposed a blanket ban on physical advertising for bookmakers in, or close to, sports stadia.
Lord Grade, the former BBC and ITV chairman who has chaired the committee, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “We have to disabuse children of the idea that gambling and football are synonymous. It’s not healthy.”
He added: “We have to wean football clubs off their reliance on gambling sponsorship… The Premier League could do it straight away, but this current economic climate puts a burden on smaller clubs, so we would give the Championship clubs three years.”
In February this year, the Premier League’s new chief executive Richard Masters said the body would not ban its clubs from shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies, despite the government’s pledge to review current gambling legislation.
The UK government has said it will look into the 2005 Gambling Act, which lifted previously strict regulations on the industry, and led to betting companies increasing their sponsorship presence in soccer.
However, Masters vowed to protect clubs in the top-flight, all of which have gambling partners.
He said: “We're not sniffy or judgemental about gambling at all. Sport and gambling have a long association. The Premier League does not have partnerships with gambling companies, we do not sell watching bet rights, but it's up to our clubs whether they want to have their own gambling relationships.”
Masters added: “I think this area does need stronger governance, particularly to protect the vulnerable, but I do not think the answer… should be that football clubs should not have shirt sponsorship from gambling companies any more.”
Since August last year, under a 'whistle-to-whistle' ban, there has been no betting advertising from five minutes before an event starts to five minutes after it finishes, including at half-time in soccer matches, before the watershed of 9pm (UK), in a ruling which also applies to most other sports.
Brigid Simmonds, chair of The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents 90 per cent of the betting and gaming industry, said in February that her organisation “is certainly looking at the whole issue of sponsorship.”
It will pay this money in instalments over the next two seasons, and the planned levy on promoted clubs is the Premier League’s way of taking their contributions.
Because the current 2019-20 season is only just approaching its conclusion, after a three-month delay, next season will kick off later than normal, a factor which has also contributed to the league having to pay a rebate.