Gambling review: what it means for UK football clubs

The Covid pandemic has caused chaos for British sport – but now the industry is facing another challenge as a government review threatens to cut off one of their most lucrative sponsors.

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Friday, 19th March 2021, 9:30 am
In the Premier League, eight of the 20 clubs are sponsored by betting firms, including Burnley FC

Reports have been circulating within the industry for months now suggesting that the UK government is considering a blanket ban on teams displaying betting logos on their kits.

The conspicuously close relationships between sports clubs and betting operators has been put under the microscope by the review of the 2005 Gambling Act in the UK, launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Ultimately the proposals made in the UK may mirror similar decrees enacted in Spain in November 2020, prohibiting sports clubs from advertising “games of chance” on players’ jerseys.

For now however they have left clubs facing a major financial hit after what has been their toughest year ever.

Football is one of the biggest beneficiaries of sponsorship by gambling companies with £110m a year alone generated for clubs in the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) Championship.

In the Premier League, eight of the 20 clubs are sponsored by betting firms – Burnley FC, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham and Wolves – while in the Championship, which is title-sponsored by SkyBet, it’s 12 clubs.

Recent reports have suggested Burnley is currently looking for a new short sponsor to replace LoveBet.

The Premier League side still has more than a season to run on its three-year partnership with the Asian gambling brand, but LoveBet has experienced ‘serious financial difficulties’ due to the impact of the pandemic – something industry insiders have said is behind Burnley’s move to seek a much bigger brand this time.

There may be a very different reason for the switch however, with clubs now fearing any gambling sponsorship deals could be wiped out by the government review.

The review of gambling sponsorship was sparked by a huge rise in “problem gamblers”. Research published in May last year suggested that levels of gambling addiction could be “even higher than was previously thought and half of those with a problem are not getting the help they need”.

A YouGov survey of 16,000 people commissioned by GambleAware estimated that up to 2.7% of adults in Britain were “problem gamblers”.

And while losing gambling sponsorship would be a major blow to clubs, those in charge will be aware that there is public support for the move with a Survation poll for Clean Up Gambling finding 51% back the banning of all advertising, sponsorship and promotion for gambling firms. Just 21% disagreed while the rest gave no opinion either way.

Burnley may in fact be looking to get ahead of the pack. The club’s new chairman Alan Pace had already committed to reviewing the club’s relationship with gambling companies even before LoveBet’s struggles.

After agreeing to buy the club in December 2020, Pace responded on Twitter to a fan questioning Burnley’s links to betting firms, saying: “It’s an issue I’m aware of and have my own personal views on, too. I can promise it will be reviewed as part of the overall commercial strategy for the club.”

The future of gambling sponsorship in football remains up in the air for now, but in seeking a new sponsor Burnley may yet prove to be out in front of their competition.