Gambling and football have a long history together, with football one of the first sports that could be bet on in the UK. We have come a long way since the first legal betting shops of the 1960s but even today, those people who do not place their first-ever bet on the Grand National are more than likely to place it on a game of football. Football is by far the most popular sport with punters, with 47% of UK bets going on the beautiful game.
Over the past five to ten years we have seen the links between football and gambling companies become ever stronger. There are more and more adverts for bookies and betting sites shown during football games, and a huge number of clubs are sponsored by bookies, online casinos and other gambling companies. Many have asked whether things have gone too far in this regard but just how many football teams are sponsored by gambling companies?
English Teams Sponsored by Gambling Companies
When we look at the relationship between football clubs and betting companies, the most obvious place to start is the most visible: the main shirt sponsor. The name emblazoned on a side’s playing kit is the most lucrative deal a club will sign (with the possible exception of deals for stadia and training grounds).
A lot of the recent controversy about football being “in bed” with the gambling industry has centred on shirt sponsorship. But how many clubs are sponsored in this way by gambling companies? Here we look at the top two tiers of English football and have included all major forms of gambling, such as sports betting, casinos, poker sites, bingo companies, lotteries and anything else relevant (Football Index, we’re looking at you… but we don’t quite know what to call you!).
As ever, this information is subject to change and is correct at the time of writing (in January 2021). Let us start with the Premier League. Of the 20 sides, 8 have betting firms as their main shirt sponsor. These can be seen in the table below.
|Burnley||LoveBet||Asian betting company have also worked with PSG|
|Crystal Palace||W88||Malaysian betting company previously sponsored Aston Villa and also work with Leicester|
|Fulham||BetVictor||Historic UK brand, one of the largest betting sites around and offers all main forms of online gambling|
|Leeds United||SPOTOP||Sports betting brand, part of the Celton Manx Group|
|Newcastle United||Fun88||Online brand offers sports betting and various other gambling facilities and was created in 2009|
|Southampton||Sportsbet.io||Online sports betting and casino business works with Arsenal and is also shirt sponsor for Watford|
|West Ham United||Betway||Online giant founded in 2006, sponsors many sports, chiefly horse racing|
|Wolves||ManBet X||Filipino gambling firm previously sponsored Crystal Palace’s shirt|
Eight of the 20 teams in the Premier League are sponsored by a gambling company, equating to 40%. A number of those are Asia-based or focussed whilst only one is a truly major name in the UK (BetVictor). For comparison, other key sectors sponsoring teams in the top flight are travel and finance.
In the former category, we have airlines Emirates and Etihad sponsoring Arsenal and Man City, respectively, with Leicester working with Thailand’s tourism authority. In terms of finance, Amex sponsor Brighton (shirt and stadium), Liverpool have Standard Chartered on their kit, Sheffield United have Union Standard Group (a foreign exchange and CFD trading company) on theirs and Spurs partner with AIA.
We can say that gambling is certainly the dominant industry when it comes to Premier League shirt sponsorship deals. But how does that figure of 40% compare to the 72 teams in the Football League?
In the Championship, even more clubs are sponsored by gambling companies, as we can see in the table below.
|Birmingham City||BoyleSports||Away and third kits are sponsored by large bookie, founded in Ireland in 1982 and still independently owned|
|Bristol City||Mansion Bet||Based in Gibraltar, Mansion have been around for over 10 years and are betting partners with Newcastle and Millwall|
|Derby County||32Red||Founded in 2002 and based in Gibraltar, this multi-faceted gambling company is part of the Kindred Group and sponsors a number of clubs|
|Norwich||Dafabet||Dafabet was founded in the Philippines in 2004, remains privately owned and has been involved in a number of big sponsorship deals in football, snooker and other sports|
|Nottingham Forest||Football Index||Founded in 2015 and with HQ in Jersey, this innovative new site blends fantasy football with a betting exchange model|
|Preston North End||32Red||Another in the 32Red stable|
|QPR||Football Index||See above|
|Reading||Casumo||Casumo started out as an online casino in 2012 but the Maltese firm now also offer sports betting|
|Stoke City||Bet365||Stoke have long been owned by the Coates family who also own bet365, one of the very biggest global players; Founded in 2000, famously from a Portakabin, they remain privately owned and employ over 5,000 people|
|Watford||Sportsbet.io||As per information above for Southampton|
As the table above shows, 12 of the second tier’s 24 teams currently have a gambling company as their main shirt sponsor. That’s four more than the Premier League and represents 50% of Championship clubs. Before we look at the politics of this issue, likely changes and other ways in which betting firms sponsor clubs, let us clarify something with regards the statistics here.
You may read different numbers at alternative sites, including some outdated information from the period when the issue first drew a lot of attention. As recently as July 2020 the BBC reported that, “This season, half of Premier League clubs and 17 of 24 Championship clubs are sponsored by bookmakers”.
However, since the 2019-20 campaign, the numbers have changed, reducing significantly from those all-time highs. Even so, many sites still report those outdated numbers, with others suggesting that as many as two thirds of the teams in the Championship are sponsored by gambling companies.
It is surprisingly hard to get an accurate figure as some deals have been signed but then not finalised, others have changed, whilst there can even be some debate about what constitutes a “gambling company”. Also, there is the issue of sleeve sponsors and official betting partners (which we will look at later) and also of some clubs using different sponsors on different kits (i.e. home, away and third).
Paddy Power’s ‘Save Our Shirt’ Campaign
Last of all, there is Huddersfield Town. In the 2019-20 season, they were involved in a major publicity stunt with Paddy Power. This saw them unveil a rather horrendous Paddy Power-sponsored kit as a spoof before revealing an old-school, sponsorless shirt that the Irish bookmaker had “unsponsored” as a dig at their rivals. Their “Save Our Shirt” campaign argued that “football shirts aren’t billboards” and Huddersfield’s plain kit was certainly much-loved by purists.
Rather confusingly though, the West Yorkshire side again have no shirt sponsor for the 2020-21 campaign but this time it is not down to Paddy, who do not sponsor, unsponsor (or anything else) the kit! Anyway, our first point is this: we’ve done our best but if you disagree with our numbers, let us know! The second point is that the 2020-21 season definitely saw a reduction in the number of clubs (in England’s top two tiers at any rate) who had a gambling company as their primary shirt sponsor.
Trends in Sponsorship
The table below is based on information taken from an excellent article from the local Reading site, Berkshire Live (concerning Casumo’s sponsorship of the Royals). Whilst their figures for the current campaign differ very slightly from ours, we can clearly see how gambling shirt sponsorship has changed.
Clubs with Gambling Shirt Sponsors in EPL & Championship
* Berkshire Live says 19 but we count 20
The current season (2020-21) was the first since 2013-14 when the numbers dropped but before that, we did see an explosion in shirt sponsorship by gambling companies. The high of 27, some 61%, reached in 2019-20 was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. With so many clubs featuring bookies and online casinos on their shirts, plus never-ending Ray Winston in the breaks, it felt like gambling was everywhere when it came to football.
The counter-argument to this is two-fold. Firstly, gambling companies were providing clubs with huge amounts of money and this helped make the Premier League so successful whilst also filtering down to grassroots level and improving the coaching for young English players, as well. Secondly, gambling businesses were simply targeting their money towards an area that met their demographics.
More than ever, football is a game for everyone but, statistically speaking, there is a huge crossover between people who like to bet and people who like football. It only makes sense for bookies, casinos and the like to advertise to football fans and some might argue they were only filling the gap left by other industries and sectors. The changing nature of football sponsorship can be seen in the chart below.
Tobacco sponsorship has long since been banned in sport and “UK advertising regulation for alcohol is among the strictest in the world”. Various restrictions, including that alcohol brands cannot be displayed on child and youth kits, meant that the 2017-18 top-flight campaign was the first in the Premier League era to see no team feature such shirt sponsorship.
The number of alcohol-related brands sponsoring top-level football has been in decline for some time, whilst the seemingly unstoppable decline of retail has also hit. With telecoms companies also moving away from the high prices needed to sponsor a Premier League side, big gambling firms like BetVictor and Betway, and up and coming Asian brands, are filling the void.
Will Gambling Companies Be Banned from Shirt Sponsorship?
As we have said, tobacco advertising is now totally banned in the UK and most parts of the world, with alcohol also heavily restricted. Will gambling be next? As we have discussed, the idea that football and gambling were too closely linked has gathered momentum over the past few years.
The huge number of shirt sponsorship deals in the 2019-20 season was certainly a catalyst but it was far from the only issue. Sadly, it is hardly a new phenomenon but, in recent years ,there have been lots of media reports of footballers suffering from gambling addiction. In addition, there are even sadder reports about people, often though not always relatively young men, taking their own lives as a response to addiction and the debts that can accrue due to it.
Critics have argued that it is impossible for football to simultaneously take so much money from the gambling industry and maintain a message that footballers should not be allowed to gamble. Joey Barton, who was banned for 18 months in 2017 for betting on football, claimed that 50% of pro footballers bet on matches. He also stated that gambling was “culturally ingrained” and questioned how the authorities could deliver such a harsh punishment to him, saying, “My point to the FA was, how can they be so stringent when they have an official gambling partner?”.
Another major point of concern is how children may be influenced by the high exposure gambling gets and the way football is so frequently seen alongside gambling. Those who oppose gambling advertisement and sponsorship argue that such arrangements promote gambling to children or at the very least legitimise it.
This is far from a view that everyone accepts but, rightly or wrongly, an end to such sponsorship deals does seem to be more a case of when than if. On the 26th of January, 2021, the Telegraph reported that “Boris Johnson is increasingly likely to ban gambling firm sponsors on football shirts by the autumn amid rising unease in Government over betting addiction”.
Carolyn Harris, a Labour MP and prominent member of the cross-party group on gambling harm said, “It’s about common sense prevailing over greed, because these football clubs have alternative ways to be funded.” She said she was confident such a ban would come into force, whilst various surveys suggest a good proportion of fans would support it.
Industry experts estimate the hit to teams in the top two divisions would be over £100m and given many clubs, especially in the Championship, are said to be struggling financially due to the lack of ticket sales, that would be a huge blow. What’s more, with the general state of the economy highly uncertain due to both Brexit and the pandemic, exactly who would fill that £100m void is far from clear.
Other Football Sponsorship by Gambling Companies
Whilst much of the attention of the media has been on the primary shirt sponsors, there are several other ways in which football clubs receive money from gambling companies. The most closely related to the main sponsorship is the secondary sponsors now permitted on sleeves. Aston Villa are primarily sponsored by online car retailer Cazoo (as are Everton) but their sleeve is given over to LT, an Asian bookmaker. Similarly, West Brom have 12Bet on their sleeves and various other clubs both in the UK and abroad have similar arrangements.
Football is a heavily monetised business these days (if only it could still be classed as a sport!) and many clubs have separate secondary sponsors who, for example, may have their name on training kits. One example of this relevant here, and probably the biggest such betting-related sponsorship deal, is Liverpool’s partnership with BetVictor. Announced in 2016, this meant BetVictor were “one of the club’s principal partners, as well as the official global online betting partner”.
In addition to such kit-based deals, almost all clubs in the top two divisions and some in the lower leagues two have an “official betting partner”. In some instances, it is not unusual to see a club sponsored by one betting site, have an official betting partner and have a third agreement with another casino or bookie as some sort of lower-tier partner. And then, of course, there is pitchside advertising, which typically centres on the main sponsor and other key partners but may also feature other gambling companies, as well.
All in all, it is certainly a heady mix of gambling sponsorship and money in football. Whether you think it is good or bad, there is no doubt that some ties between the two industries will remain. With the growing probability of a shirt sponsorship ban, we may see clubs and bookmakers becoming more inventive. But if all ties are severed, there were certainly be a huge financial hole for clubs to fill.