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Unlike shirt sponsors from other industries where the link to football can be somewhat tenuous, when it comes to betting firms the link to the sport is obvious. Huge numbers of people bet on football games, so it makes perfect sense to sponsor the shirts of the clubs whose games they are betting on.
Gambling sponsors seem to appear on shirts everywhere nowadays, but if you take a step back and look at the international picture, the reality is quite different. In countries like France, Germany and Italy there are virtually no betting sponsors on football shirts, due to various types of bans on gambling advertising in place in these countries.
Most betting sponsors can be found in the UK leagues and in Spain, where a new law banning gambling advertising in sports will come into force next season.
The Premier League
No fewer than eight teams in the Premier League are sponsored by betting firms but curiously none of the ‘big six’ are among them. There are a few possible reasons as to why. Firstly, sponsoring the biggest teams is a lot more expensive. A top-six club’s shirt sponsorship will usually be valued somewhere in the region of £35 to £50 million per season. But for the rest of the teams the price is generally below £10m and can go as low as £2m per year.
It could be that for betting firms there is no incentive to throw big bucks at the top clubs. After all, they’re not particularly interested in having the club’s values rub off onto their own brand. Essentially what they are looking for is exposure, to be seen on the TV screens of the customers who bet on televised games.
And the length of the deal is also an issue. The bigger clubs can hold out for multi-year deals with potential extensions but the betting firms who are in tight competition with each other might find it more strategic to have multiple short-term deals in place spanning just one or two seasons. The top sides will spend months trying to convince multinational corporations that they should part with hundreds of millions of pounds to sponsor their club, tempting them with their huge social media followings, worldwide merchandise sales and multi-million TV audiences.
But for the rest of the clubs it is more of a case of taking what you can get, and since the gambling firms are mainly only interested in exposure, negotiations tend to be a lot simpler and deals can be struck quickly. Many a club finding itself without a shirt sponsor has seen a betting firm come to the rescue at the last minute. This was the case of Southampton last summer. When the club’s contract with Chinese firm LD Sports was terminated just before the start of this season, Sportsbet.io (also seen on Watford FC’s kit this season) filled into the breach.
Fans sometimes ask themselves why a betting sponsor company they’ve never heard of would be interested in their club and its fan base. But the truth is that many times the betting company is not interested in recruiting new customers from among the club’s fans at all.
We see many cases now of betting companies’ names being displayed on football shirts in Chinese characters in an attempt to attract Chinese-speaking customers. And this is why companies like Fun88 (Newcastle United) and W88 (Crystal Palace) have the number eight in their name – it is considered a very lucky number in China, and even more so when it appears twice.
Sports betting and advertising is in fact banned in China, so advertising on the clubs’ shirts is one of the few ways these firms are able to reach their target market.
Other UK leagues
When the identities of the clubs themselves don’t matter too much in reaching your target market, the ideal sponsorship deal for a betting company would be with the league itself, and that’s exactly what Sky Bet did with the EFL. The title sponsorship gives Sky Bet a huge amount of TV and media exposure, and means their logo features on the sleeves of all the 72 league clubs.
In the Championship 11 of the 24 clubs have gambling sponsors on their shirts, but these don’t tend to be the same companies that sponsor the Premier League clubs. In the second tier we see fewer Asian companies and a lot more betting firms that have a focus on the UK market, such as Irish firm Boylesports (sponsor of Birmingham City’s away shirt and Coventry’s kits) and 32 Red, which features on the shirts of Derby County, Middlesbrough and Preston North End.
Betting sponsors can also be found in the SPL, where 32 Red also sponsor Rangers and Filipino company Dafabet has a five-year-long partnership with Celtic.
Betting firms have little interest in sponsoring clubs that aren’t televised though. In League 1 and League 2 where few games are televised and audiences are low, betting sponsors are nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile in Spain the main players are Austrian firm Bwin, who currently sponsor Valencia (and formerly Real Madrid), and Betway, who have one of the largest portfolios including Real Betis, Levante and Alavés in LaLiga Santander, as well as second-tier sides Leganés and Espanyol.
The LaLiga teams don’t seem to attract much interest from the Asian betting firms however, probably because of the greater popularity of the Premier League in the region.
The imminent ban on betting sponsorship in Spain will certainly give Spanish kits a different look in 2021/22, as seven of LaLiga Santander’s 20 teams will be forced to look to new sectors for their sponsorship revenue. And the increased competition among the clubs chasing the same potential sponsorships could see some of the smaller clubs come out worse for wear, so we shouldn’t be surprised if more than one LaLiga team starts next season with no shirt sponsor at all.