football's gambling addiction - a bubble set to burst?
Betfred, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and many more now adorn nearly half the football shirts and club stadiums 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 filled motorsport paddocks in the 80s and 90s.
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.
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, while 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: Philip 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 Philip 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 (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…