15 years ago a decision was made that would have a lasting impact on sports sponsorship. The World Health Organisation recommended banning “all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”, with companies forced to remove all cigarette branding, once this was implemented by legislators around the world. This changed the face of sports sponsorship forever, particularly in Formula 1 where tobacco branding had been a constant since the 1970’s. Step forward into the current day, and we’re facing a similar impending scenario with the gambling industry.
This week the Spanish government confirmed the introduction of a ban on betting companies sponsorship in La Liga from the end of this season. A decision that will hugely impact at least seven of the league’s clubs who have their current main partnership as a betting company. More importantly, is this the first step to a much wider and harder-hitting decision that may be undertaken on a global scale?
Closer to home in the UK, just next month the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, will launch a call for evidence as the first steps towards overhauling the 2005 Gambling Act. There is a general consensus and growing support for the idea that betting advertising and promotion has gone too far. A recent Survation online poll indicated that 58% of respondents agreed that too many football clubs are sponsored by gambling companies, 59% agreed that there were too many gambling adverts in football stadiums, and 34% said they wouldn’t buy a replica jersey if it featured a gambling sponsor’s logo.
Away from general worries about the oversaturation of gambling sponsorships, there is also a growing pool of research clearly stating the direct impact these sponsorships are having on the health and well-being of young people. As industry professionals, there’s certainly one aspect we can all agree on, any form of advertising, promotional opportunity or sponsorship should never negatively impact, whether directly or indirectly, on the well-being of the consumer. It’s a very clear line that should never be crossed.
So, what’s the impact and outcomes of any future betting sponsorship ban on the sports industry? The rise in global gambling partnerships is clear to see. As demonstrated within the 2020 European Sponsorship Market Overview Report, from fifth in 2017, to third in 2018, betting found itself as the second largest industry spender behind sportswear companies in 2019. Legalisation of sports betting in many countries, a multitude of online companies, and a vastly growing consumer base has only helped to fuel the industry.
In English football alone at the start of 2020 half of the Premier League clubs and 17 of the 24 Championship clubs had a gambling sponsor on their shirt. On top of this, betting companies frequently sponsor stadiums or stands, on average 2.3 gambling adverts appear in matchday programmes, and players have been embroiled in promotional stunts up and down the country. No wonder the English Football League is hugely concerned about the dire impacts a ban would have on lost revenue.
The removal of all betting sponsorships would leave a massive hole in the industry and would result in many teams around the world struggling to keep their head above the water. Some industries naturally die out over time due to external factors and matters out of their hands, only to be replaced by up and coming business sectors that, as they grow, invest in sports sponsorships. Right now, the gambling industry is at the peak of it powers, so if that goes at the click of a finger, which industry is going to replace it? Who is going to ensure the sponsorship shortfall is covered and safeguard the future of sports teams from around the worldwide? Given the current global crisis, any further lost revenue could be the final straw for many.
As we’ve already touched upon, whether its tobacco or gambling, the health and well-being of any sponsorship consumer MUST be the top priority. Therefore, any legal decisions made must have this at the heart of its resolution, but a solution whereby consumers are protected and clubs are protected might be the better way forward. For this to work, it requires ingenuity and a new approach.
Through tobacco company Philip Morris International’s supposed $50 million a year deal with the Ferrari F1 deal, the brand has reinvented itself to promote its corporate social responsibility, and its technological collaboration and innovation through its Mission Winnow strategy. The rules are clear, and the risk of overstepping them is far too great, but if they are abided by, sports teams can generate revenue without consumers being blatantly and directly impacted by it.
This adjustment in approach will not work for every betting company. For those who it does, it can change the perception of the company for the better and hopefully along the way improve the lives of those negatively impacted by the industry. Sponsorships should be a force for good, but the reliance on gambling revenue has very quickly and quietly got out of hand to the extent that an overnight removal of it would be catastrophic for the sports industry. It’s time for all parties to wake up to the reality, lay their cards on the table and get something done now!