In April 2023, Premier League clubs agreed that they would be implementing a ban on gambling sponsors featuring on the front of match-day shirts, starting from the 2026/27 season. With 8 of the 20 top-flight teams at the time having betting firm logos on the front of their shirts, this was a very significant announcement. The reaction to the news was generally fairly positive but some were against it while others argued that Premier League clubs still need to do a lot more.
Given that no other professional sports league in the UK had taken this action before action, it is interesting to look at why the Premier League was the first. As well as this, we will also assess the impact the planned ban may have on England’s top clubs.
Why Decide to Ban Now?
Betting is far from a new phenomenon in the UK and bookmakers have been sponsoring English teams for over two decades. Fulham were the first Premier League club to don a bookmaker logo on their shirt, back in 2002/03, when agreeing terms with Betfair. Since then, it has only become an increasingly common sight and there have been seasons (2016/17 and 2019/20) where half the top-flight teams have had bookmaker/betting company shirt sponsors. Between 2016/17 and 2022/23, there have been at least eight teams with main betting sponsors in the Premier League, showing just how consistently a common sight they are.
These numbers themselves are of no real concern for the Premier League or the clubs signing the deals. Sides are getting paid handsome sums for these deals and to them this is the most important thing. The actual issue is that this high level of sponsorship has caught the government’s attention and Premier League clubs are concerned that action may be taken to end their cosy relationship with betting firms.
The voluntary agreement Premier League clubs agreed upon, therefore, is something of an attempt to appease the government. It sends the message of ‘we are taking this seriously, so there is no need for you to get involved’. In this instance their announcement was made shortly before the government were set to release its Gambling Act review white paper. This itself was the product of a lengthy assessment of the current law, the 2005 Gambling Act, which need to be made “fit for the digital age”.
If compromises like these are enough to convince the government that the Premier League can be trusted to deal with gambling itself, then it will represent something of a success. Making no sacrifices is not an option in the current climate but a self-imposed sponsor ban, and perhaps some other future measures, may stop the government from intervening. As any government legislation would likely go much further than any Premier League compromise, keeping them out of the game is to their financial benefit.
The Reason for the Delay
Although announced in Spring 2023, the ban on front-of-shirt betting sponsors is only set to come into force in the summer of 2026, making it far from immediate action. Although the assumption might be that the wait is just so Premier League clubs can continue raking in that bookmaker money for a little longer, this is not the reason provided.
Instead, the three year ‘transitional-period’ was agreed to avoid any possible law suits for breach of contract. If the ban came into force straight away (for the 2023/24 season) five of the eight deals would have been forcibly cut short, potentially causing issues.
While this seems a fine explanation, there are two points to note. One is that in Spain, they introduced a similar ban with just a few months’ notice, leaving many teams scrambling to find a new sponsor. Secondly, Premier League clubs are free to sign brand new deals with gambling firms during this transitional period. Due to this, there is a genuine sense they are milking this cash cow for as long as they get can away with.
Time will tell if any club agrees a new deal but when announcing the ban, all existing sponsorship deals of current Premier League clubs were likely to expire prior to 2026. The reason we have to say likely is that Stake’s deal with Everton (signed in 2022) and SBOTOP’s deal with Leeds (signed in 2020) were announced as ‘multi-year’ rather than having a specific duration. The Guardian reported the former to be (a minimum) three-years long though, while it is hard to think SBOTOP penned anything beyond a six-year deal. That said, there is every chance one or both of these clubs may not be Premier League sides for too much longer anyway (at the time of writing they are battling relegation at the end of the 2022/23 campaign).
How Will It Impact Club Finances?
Premier League clubs do not regularly choose betting companies as their principal sponsors because they love gambling, it is simply because they are so often the highest bidders. Especially when looking at mid and lower table clubs, other companies cannot compete with the money betting firms offer.
Even when teams, such as Everton, are openly unkeen on having such sponsors, they are unable to turn down the millions extra they bring in. According to Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow, gambling companies would normally stump up around twice as much money as those in other industries.
The fact clubs regularly partner with betting firms, and sometimes rather shady ones, should not come as any surprise as football clubs are run as businesses. An extra few million can be the difference between survival and relegation, which in itself has a huge impact financially. While some clubs would like to be more socially responsible with the firms they partner up with, they would be putting themselves at a not-insignificant disadvantage. This is the benefit of having a collective agreement as it means clubs can wean themselves away from gambling sponsors while not falling behind their closest rivals.
Adjusted for inflation, it is very difficult to think that clubs will enjoy the same revenues for the front-of-shirt sponsor slot once the ban comes into place. The danger here is further increasing the gap between the top teams in the league and the rest of the pack. This is because the very biggest clubs, the elite six or seven at the top of the table, can sign far bigger deals with non-gambling companies anyway.
A Disadvantage for Smaller Clubs
As things stand, the rest of the league have far less valuable sponsorship arrangements with gambling businesses. If they are then forced into deals with non-gambling businesses worth around half those values, it is clearly going to disadvantage them further as compared to the top clubs. Some argue, however, that clubs might not end up losing that much money as they should enjoy increased fees in other areas of advertisement.
In the view of Sponsorship valuation platform Turnstile, sleeve sponsors, for one, will become much more sought after, raising the price of these. The proposed ban on betting firms only related to front-of-shirt logos so bookmakers will still be free to have their logo on a sleeve of a Premier League top. Other ‘secondary assets’, such as LED advertising boards are also predicted to attract more valuable agreements, further minimising the financial impact of this voluntary ban.
According to Turnstile manager, Dan Gaunt, nine-minutes of time on an LED board gives a similar level of exposure as a front-of-shirt sponsor. A sleeve sponsor on the other hand offers around 60% exposure, which still makes it a very viable option for betting companies. So, although experts predict that main sponsor revenues decreases of between £5m and £10m a season, a good chunk of this should be recouped through other means.
How Has It Worked in Other Nations?
Although such a ban is a first for a UK professional sporting league, it is not without precedent. In both Italy and Spain, they have banned betting sponsorship. Neither league was keen on such action but the state was and they have the authority to act.
In Spain they moved very quickly, banning the promotion of gambling firms in October 2020, effective at the start of the next season. This left six La Liga clubs without a sponsor for their first match of the 2021/22 season. Needless to say, La Liga president, Javier Tebas, was not happy about this but there was nothing he could do.
There was perhaps even more opposition to the crackdown on gambling sponsorship in Italy but the state refused to budge. Even when the Italian Football Association pleaded to lift the ban following the global health crisis, and related commercial losses, their pleas fell on deaf ears. In both cases, Italy and Spain, the top leagues were concerned about the significant drops in revenues and the impact this would have on their ability to compete on the continent.
Italian & Spanish Clubs Had to Get Creative
It is true that revenues are down, especially as the ban also extends to sleeve sponsors and pitchside advertising boards seen by domestic audiences. They are not down as much as initially feared though as loopholes do exist and have been exploited. Technology used in both La Liga and Serie A, for instance, allows for different, superimposed adverts to appear on the LED pitch-side boards. This means that people in Asia, can still see betting ads while watching the action, while domestic viewers only see the originals.
Partnerships with betting companies are also still permitted. Juventus, for example, have several active deals with each having a disclaimer of “as per Italian law, partnership not performed in Italy”. Basically, clubs have gotten a little more creative to help reduce the impact of the ban, but they are still down in terms of revenue. There has been little evidence this has impacted their competitive on a continental stage though. When looking at UEFA associate club coefficients (a measure of how well clubs from each nation have performed in UEFA competitions) across 21/22 and 22/23*, Italy had the second highest sum, followed by Spain. *The 22/23 season is still under way at the time of writing, but two-year rankings are unlikely to change.
Even if there does end up being an impact in the longer-term for Italian and Spanish clubs, Premier League clubs would be unlikely to be affected in the same way. This is partly because a front-of-shirt sponsor ban is less far-reaching than what has occurred in Italy and Spain. Additionally, the Premier League clubs actually competing in Europe, are typically not the ones with betting sponsors in the first place.
There are also those that would argue that a reduction in continental competitiveness is a price worth paying for a reduction in gambling related harm. Clubs are hardly going to go bankrupt due to these kinds of bans and many believe society will be better off if football becomes less reliant upon gambling money. This does, however, rest on the assumption that a reduction in visible gambling sponsors is an effective strategy in the fight against problem gambling and associated issues.
How Effective Will a Sponsor Ban Be?
If shirt sponsor were not effective in recruiting new customers, then bookmakers would not consistently pay such good money for them in the first place. This much is true, although a lot of the customers that many of the bookmakers attract are based overseas.
Typically, many of the bookmaker brands you see in the Premier League are based in Asia, rather than being more traditional high-street names from the UK. This is not to say international gambling harm is unimportant but this sponsor ban was put in place to appease the UK government, which is focussed on its own citizens.
On the one hand, it does seem like a major step, as front-of-shirt sponsors are extremely visible but there are so many other ways bookmakers can have their name shown. Whether it is half-time adverts, sleeve sponsors or advertising boards, it hardly seems like they will struggle to get their name out there.
A Pointless Exercise?
Although we personally do not feel that a front-of-shirt sponsor ban alone will be make a huge difference, it is something very hard to quantify. There are likely to be a range of other measures put in place by the government in order to curb gambling harm, making it impossible to control for other variables. Such measures often take time to work too as they are trying to chisel away at gambling being such an engrained part of sport, without decimating the industry.
Ultimately though we, like many, must feel that this is a rather pointless exercise. The whole treatment of gambling is riddled with inconsistencies and hypocrisy. On the one hand, the football authorities are acting and the government is pressuring them. But on the other hand you have clubs that are essentially owned by betting firms and stadia named after them.
Then you have the fact that the shirt ban applies only to the Premier League. What happens if a club with a gambling sponsor is promoted? Oh, and have we mentioned that the whole Football League is sponsored by a betting firm? Or that players such as Ivan Toney have been charged with gambling offences and yet allowed to play on through almost a whole season? Or the fact that PL clubs can still feature betting brands on their shirt sleeves?