For years, gambling sponsorships have been a huge source of income for many English Premier League (EPL) clubs, with betting brands generally offering more lucrative deals than other sectors.
Therefore, despite the ethical controversy surrounding bookmakers, they have always remained prominent within English soccer.
The UK gambling industry is one of the largest markets in the world, generating approximately $17.6 billion (£14.2 billion) in 2020, which also emphasizes the current issue within the UK regarding gambling addictions, as a 2020 survey from YouGov revealed that nearly 1.4 million people are estimated to be problem gamblers.
In addition, an estimated 3.6 million people in the UK have been negatively impacted by another person’s gambling problem, with a further 5 million people experiencing harm because of gambling addiction.
As of the 2022-23 season, eight of the current 20 EPL teams have front-of-shirt sponsorships with gambling brands, amassing 40% of the league. The combined annual value of those deals stands at $69 million, as per GlobalData.
In recent years, the UK government has been tougher on restricting gambling advertising, with a full ban on TV adverts featuring sports stars and personalities set to occur in October 2023. The ban is also expected to include video game content to protect younger audiences from the harsh reality of gambling.
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The UK government and the EPL’s main issue is the vulnerability of young soccer fans, who are constantly exposed to different forms of gambling advertising and promotions.
A 2019 survey from the Gambling Commission found that 36% of children between the ages of 11 and 16 had participated in gambling in the past 12 months, whilst 11% had done so in the last seven days.
Technological advancements and the ease of online betting have only made the issue worse in the UK, as it is believed there are more people gambling online today than ever before, with the rate likely to continue increasing.
The EPL’s decision to ban gambling front-of-shirt sponsorships follows in the footsteps of the Spanish LaLiga, where the country’s government approved the initiative to ban betting brands on soccer shirts at the start of the 2021-22 season.
What is the impact on EPL clubs?
Eight EPL teams will have to find new front-of-shirt sponsors within the next three years, with new agreements unlikely to match the deal value boasted by gambling brands, meaning many clubs may lose out on sponsorship revenue going forward.
West Ham United’s six-year deal with Betway is worth an estimated $12.65 million annually and it could be hard for the London club to find an alternative sponsor that offers such rewarding value.
The hope is that those eight clubs find suitable sponsorship deals in time and are not left without one going into the 2026-27 season, as was the case with Granada, Real Sociedad, Alaves, RCD Mallorca, Cadiz, and Levante, after the gambling shirt ban in LaLiga last year.
However, the eight clubs shouldn’t be impacted too harshly in terms of finances, as the ban does not include stadium advertising, sleeve sponsorships, and other shirt branding.
If more restrictions occur in the future, in terms of sleeve sponsors and advertising, then all EPL clubs will have to diversify their revenue and sponsorship portfolio as many clubs may then find themselves financially limited.
Therefore, it would make sense for EPL clubs to begin planning ways to reduce their dependence on gambling brands immediately, as their presence within English soccer only seems to be diminishing as time goes on.
Is the ban a good thing?
Gambling sponsorships make the activity of gambling seem normal when watching sports, especially when it is associated with fans’ favorite players. The fact that all EPL clubs have agreed to call for a ban on such sponsors is a major step in the right direction.
Overall, the growing profitability of the betting industry has been at the expense of the UK public, with gambling addictions reportedly growing in recent times.
Therefore, the ban will help reduce the sector’s visibility within the most-watched professional sports league in the country and discourage gambling activity among younger audiences.
The hope is that the government imposes further restrictions in the future to sleeve sponsors, TV adverts, and in-stadium betting advertising, to further reduce the level of gambling activity in the UK and the risk of new problem gamblers.
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