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Football’s Gambling Addiction – A Bubble Set to Burst?

26 Jun 2017, Posted by Glen Gibson in Automotive, digital, Events, F1, Football, General, MotoGP, Motor Sport, Motorcycles

Betfred, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and many more now adorn nearly half the football shirt and club stadium around the world. Online gambling is big business and these companies are putting big money into football to attract new clients. And it all smells a bit like the tobacco fuelled motorsport paddocks on the 80s and 90s.


Online gambling is a largely self-regulating industry, but their advertising is reaching people outside the intended, and legal, audience of their products. Last week The FA began to encourage teams to step away from the ‘easy money’ of online betting; it even went as far as cutting ties with their betting partner, Ladbrokes. It’s a move which comes in the wake of the Joey Barton betting controversy and a growing concern about gambling problems in the UK.


With The FA’s continued involvement in youth football, the worry about online gambling’s impact will no doubt have been a cause for concern. Sponsorship deals are there for everyone to see, regardless of the age or demographic group the product is targeted at. Protecting youth audiences from the influence of online gambling is sure to be an area under the microscope in the future, and not just for The FA.


No less than 48 hours after The FA and Ladbrokes parted company, Premier League Club AFC Bournemouth announced that online gambling company ‘M88’ has been secured as their shirt sponsor, continuing to make hay while the betting sun shines. But with the incredible visibility being a shirt sponsor brings, how can AFC Bournemouth protect their young fans from the dangers of online betting?


More to the point, is the bubble with betting sponsors about to burst?


If alarm bells aren’t already ringing at football clubs, they perhaps should be. Directors up and down the country would do well to look at lessons to be learned from tobacco and motorsport. Throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, tobacco sponsorship produced a golden era of two and four wheeled racing. Money was plentiful, bikes and cars were a wild assortment of colours and grids were overflowing with talent. Marlboro, Rothmans, Camel and the like all became synonymous with motorsport and successful champions: from Wayne Rainey and Michael Schumacher to Valentino Rossi and Ayrton Senna… tobacco funding was behind them all.


But it all started to come crashing down in 2001, when the FIA announced a ban on tobacco and cigarette sponsorship from 2006 onwards. A similar ban was implemented by the FIM for 2006.



The move came as a result of various governments banning tobacco sponsorship. At the time Ferrari, McLaren, Jordan and Benetton all ran with tobacco branding, in NASCAR there were over 40 teams running with some form of tobacco branding. Yamaha, Honda and Ducati enjoyed similar support from Camel, Marlboro and Gauloises in MotoGP.  Liveries changed from race to race, to try and get around each country’s laws, before the outright ban hit in 2006. It wasn’t long before riders and drivers were chosen for sponsorship portfolios, as opposed to their talent and raw speed, as teams scrambled to stay afloat.


Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule: Phillip Morris and Ducati continue a lucrative relationship thanks to creative activation. It’s a partnership with no visible branding or promotion on the bike but sees Phillip Morris help the factory Ducati team to fund enormous rider salaries in exchange for rider interactions, hospitality and two-seater MotoGP rides during Grands Prix. The ban forced sponsors to leave or get creative.


It was estimated that over 300 million dollars (not adjusted for inflation) was being pumped into various car racing championships alone. Online gambling is the fifth biggest investor in the Premier League with deals ranging from £1 million to £20 million per team per year. The FA’s agreement with Ladbrokes is said to have been worth £4 million a year itself. Tobacco companies had been a crutch in the industry – big and easy money to get. As teams would learn, you don’t find that kind of sponsorship down the back of the sofa.

Football’s fixation and reliance on self-regulating online gambling companies has an air of familiarity. Now, just as the FIA and FIM did a decade ago, The FA is recommending restrictions on online gambling’s influence. As concerns about the rise in online gambling continue to grow amongst governments in Europe, Australia and elsewhere, especially with its impact on younger audiences, the issue is no doubt set to come to a head.


At least there’s always energy drinks to fall back on…