Article updated following Premier League decision to ban gambling sponsorship on shirts by the 26/27 Season.
Premier League bans gambling sponsorship on front of matchday shirts
In April 2023, Premier League clubs in the Uk have agreed to ban the use of gambling sponsors on the front of their match shirts, in a move that signals the start of the government's crackdown on gambling advertising in sport within the UK. The move comes shortly before the UK Government is due to announce the outcome of their Gambling Reform Whitepaper, which is expected to include additional player protections and affordability considerations for online gambling and in particular, sports betting.
The announcement comes after the clubs and the league held consultations with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, who carried out their own review of the existing gambling legislation. As this article highlights, gaming is highly prevalent across UK football, not just the highest level of the sport, so this move is seen as the start of a transitional period to reduce the impact of betting and gaming firms visibly have across football as a whole.
Although it's a step that campaigners will appreciate, the removal of front of shirt sponsorship still leaves many opportunities to stay involved for gaming brands, from shirt sleeves and training gear to pitchside billboards and TV commercials, so the overall effect may still be questioned by those same campaign groups.
Over the past year, Xace has carried out significant research into Gambling Sponsorship in UK football, which provides insights from both sides of the fence, where the money delivered into the sport is directly supporting the national leagues outside of the mega rich owners of the Premier League, right down to grass roots and non-league football. This is hugely important and valuable research to be doing if the sport is to be sustainable at lower levels, while the good gaming funds continue to bring cannot be overlooked.
Gambling in Uk Football
For decades, English football and gambling have been deeply intertwined. Betting on football has been permitted in the UK since the 1960s,and in recent years advertising for betting and casino sites within the English Football League (EFL) has become ever more pervasive.
As a consequence, there's been a backlash, with gambling charities raising concerns about the effects of advertising on problem gamblers and children. And, in mid 2021, the UK government announced plans to end the lucrative advertising of gambling brands on football jerseys - as well as potentially prohibiting it elsewhere.
The impact of banning gambling advertising in football would be significant, cutting revenues for individual clubs and entire leagues. Unsurprisingly,there’s been pushback on this issue from football.
According to an EFL spokesperson quoted by the BBC, there is little evidence that advertising itself increases the number of problem gamblers. What is more,in the aftermath of the pandemic where many clubs face a serious funding shortage (ticket sales collapsed with lockdowns), some fear that banning gambling sponsorship would be a death blow to smaller clubs.
So, how pervasive is football sponsorship in the English Football League? To find out more, Xace analysed publicly available information to learn which clubs have deals with gambling firms. Read on to learn about the state of gambling sponsorship in English football.
About football sponsorship research
In April 2022 we collated information from the websites of the English Football League, EFL teams’ sites, as well as various media outlets, to build a picture of the scale of gambling sponsorship in football.
We chose to focus on the top five leagues of the EFL (Premier League, EFL Championship, EFL League One, EFL League Two, Vanarama National League), as these leagues feature most full-time professional clubs and also attract most advertising revenue, fans and TV audiences.
While the following analysis is extensive, it draws exclusively on information that is publicly available and widely accessible. Some data (especially pertaining to the value of sponsorship deals) was not available for commercial reasons.
We have focused on advertising and sponsorship of the five leagues and 115 clubs, rather than general TV/online advertising around football since much of this would be extremely difficult to capture. We’ve also excluded any advertising around other football competitions (such as the Europa Champions League, for instance).
The following analysis provides a unique and rich picture of gambling advertising in English football.
Gambling sponsorship in the EFL: 2021 / 22 season overview
Here’s everything you need to know about gambling sponsorship in the EFL in the 2021/22 season.
How many teams in the EFL have partnered with a gambling business?
In total, there are 115 clubs in the top five leagues of the EFL. Of these, 31 have some kind of partnership or association with a betting or gambling firm. This means 27% of clubs have a direct association with abetting or gambling business.
Digging into the data, some clear trends emerge:
- The vast majority of gambling sponsorship deals are associated with clubs in the Premier League and the Championship.
- The Premier League has the highest number of teams that have a partnership with a betting or casino company. 15 Premier League teams have such a partnership out of 20 clubs.
- In the Championship, 12 clubs have some kind of partnership with a betting or casino business.
- In EFL League One, none of the 24 teams has a direct sponsorship relationship with a gambling firm.
- In EFL League Two, only one of the 24 teams has a betting partnership - this is Stevenage, which has an association with Betting.Bet.
- Finally, in the Vanarama National League, four teams have some kind of deal with a gambling business.
League sponsorship in the EFL
It is also possible for gambling businesses to sponsor entire EFL leagues. In fact, all of the leagues, except the Premier League have some kind of sponsorship deal with a gambling firm (The Premier League is currently not sponsored by any company – it has previously had sponsorships deals with banks and alcohol companies).
Betting business Sky Bet has a deal with the Championship,League One and League Two which is reportedly worth several million pounds per season, and covers all three leagues.
Meanwhile, the Vanarama National League is sponsored by the National Lottery as well as gambling firms UniBet and 32Red. During the pandemic, the National Lottery, which is a charitable body in the UK,established a £10 million fund to support lower league clubs during the pandemic.
Since advertising from league sponsors like Sky Bet is prominent in programmes, TV broadcasting, stadium ads, social media and on many teams’ shirt sleeves, it is arguably only a minority of clubs that don't have any kind of gambling sponsorship. By this measure, there are only four EFL clubs that appear to have no sponsorship association with gambling firms: Liverpool, Manchester City, Everton, Brighton and Hove Albion.
What kinds of sponsorship feature in the EFL?
There are several kinds of sponsorship that gambling businesses choose to use in the EFL.
Football shirt sponsorship
At noted above, the most controversial kind of gambling advertising in the EFL is shirt sponsorship, where betting firms’ logos appearing on the front of club jerseys.
There are 15 clubs with a gambling business as their shirt sponsor in the EFL, of which nine are in the Premier League and six in the Championship. Clubs with a gambling shirt sponsor are as follows:
Team - Sponsor
Brentford - Hollywoodbets
Burnley - Spreadex sports
Crystal Palace - W88
Leeds United - SBOTOP
Newcastle United - Fun88
Watford - Stake.com
West Ham United - Betway
Wolverhampton Wanderers - Manbetx
Birmingham City - Boylesports
Bristol City - Mansionbet
Coventry City - Boylesports
Derby County - 32Red
Middlesbrough - 32Red
Stoke City - Bet365
While shirt sponsorship gets the most attention, there are several other ways that EFL teams associate with gambling firms.
Official betting partnerships
The most common approach is to develop some kind of ‘official betting partnership’. As noted in the previous section, if we include league sponsors as betting partners, then a total of 111 teams arguably have a ‘betting partner’. If we exclude league sponsors, then there are 20 teams that have an ‘official betting partner’ of some sort.
Several teams have more than one betting partner. For example, at Newcastle United, Bet365 is the club’s ‘official betting partner’,while Irish firm Boylesports is the team’s ‘UK and Ireland betting partner’.
Most teams with a betting partner are in the Premier League and the Championship, although there are four teams with a betting partnership of some sort in the Vanarama National League too.
Gambling Sleeve sponsorship
Another option is sleeve sponsorship, where a betting company’s logo appears on a shirt sleeve. Only one team in the EFL has such a sleeve sponsor – Aston Villa with OB.com. However, all teams in the Championship,League One and League Two also have the league sponsor Sky Bet’s logo on their sleeves.
Stadium sponsorships in iGaming
Some EFL teams have also opted to rename their stadiums aspart of partnership agreements with various companies (such as Arsenal's Emirate Stadium deal with Emirates airline). One team in the championship, Stoke City, sold its naming rights to Bet365 (the Bet365 stadium) in 2016. Then, in 2021, Bet365 bought the stadium entirely for over £70 million.
Other forms of football sponsorship
There are a couple of other sponsorship deals between EFL clubs and betting firms. For example, Cardiff City's training wear is sponsored by 888 Casino. Some clubs provide the option to sponsor individual players, match day programmes, VIP lounges and other surfaces, although we couldn’t find any data on these deals.
What is the value of gambling sponsorship to EFL clubs?
It is very difficult to say exactly how much gambling sponsorship is worth to the EFL in the 2021/22 season. Estimates from 2020 suggest that gambling contributes about £70 million to the Premier League and £40 million to clubs in the lower leagues. That said, most of these agreements are commercially sensitive, so getting a definite view of the value of gambling sponsorship for each club is not possible.
Most information in the public realm relates to sponsorship of the shirts of Premier League clubs, with the average season value of shirt sponsorship being around £7 million. Betway's deal to sponsor West Ham United’s shirt is the highest at £10 million, followed by £8m paid by ManBetX to appear on Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shirt and £7.5m paid by SportBet.io to appear on Southampton’s jersey.
Which teams have most partnerships with betting companies?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the global popularity of the Premier League, betting businesses have made most effort to develop sponsorship agreements with top flight teams, and this is where most clubs have deals with gambling firms.
However, the team with the highest number of partnerships in all five leagues is in fact Vanarama National League team Torquay United, who have agreements with 12 gambling and casino related businesses. Torquay United are something of an outlier however, and most sponsorship is found in top flight teams:
- Leicester City come first, with five gambling sponsorship partnerships
- Newcastle United come second, with three gambling partners
- Southampton, Leeds United and Aston Villa have two gambling partners each, as do Championship teams Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough, and West Bromwich Albion.
How many gambling businesses advertise in the EFL?
There is a wide variety of gambling businesses sponsoring clubs in the EFL, indicating that this is a very competitive and open market. We counted 26 gambling companies that sponsor at least one team in the EFL (we decided to exclude another 11 companies who sponsor Torquay United – most of their gambling partners are casino businesses, but we did include their partnership with William Hill who also advertise with Tottenham Hotspurs).
The majority of gambling business only sponsor one club inone league, but there are handful of firms which advertise with more than one team.
- The most prevalent is Bet365, who sponsor four teams – two in the Premier League and two in the Championship.
- Next is PariMatch, which has three partnerships with Premier League teams
- BoyleSports also partners with three teams - one Premier League team and two Championship teams
- Several gambling firms have sponsorship associations with two teams, including Sportsbet.io (two Premier League clubs), HTH (two Premier League clubs), William Hill (Tottenham Hotspurs and Torquay United), 32Red also sponsors two Championship teams,as does 888.
UK versus international sponsorship in the EFL
English football is perhaps the most watched sports leaguein the world, and so it is unsurprising that the Premier League in particular attracts sponsorship from several international betting businesses. Here are the countries where betting sponsorship for the EFL comes from:
- UK (including overseas territories such as Gibraltar): William Hill, Bet365, Spreadex Sports, W88 (UK based, but Asia focused), SBOTOP (Isle of Man, but Asia focused), BetVictor (Gibraltar)
- South Africa: Hollywood Bets
- China: Fun88, HTH, OB.com
- Australia: Sportbet.io
- Curacao: Stake.com (although mainly Australian)
- Ireland: Boylesports
- Cyprus: PariMatch
- Malta: ManBetX, Betway
This analysis shows just how international sponsorship for gambling in the EFL has become, with almost two thirds of the betting firms which sponsor the Premier League based outside of the UK.
Sponsors of Championship teams tend to be more European, and are either based in the UK, Ireland, Gibraltar or Malta.
Regional differences in EFL club sponsorship
We also wanted to find out if that were any regional differences in sponsorship of EFL clubs. By somewhat crudely dividing the UK in two, with Birmingham and anything north of the city considered as ‘the North’ and anything south of the city considered as ‘the South’.
By dividing up the country in this way, we can see that that are 25 partnerships between northern football clubs and gambling business (some clubs have more than one sponsorship deal, and some gambling businesses sponsor more than one club), whereas only 14 southern clubs have such an association (we exclude Torquay United on the south coast which has 12 sponsorship deals with gambling firms).
Gambling sponsorship in the EFL is deep rooted
Through this research we wanted to gain a comprehensive picture of gambling sponsorship in the EFL. What emerges is a sport with deep and intertwining partnerships between football teams, leagues and gambling business.
· Gambling sponsorship is present practically everywhere in the English Football League, and as noted above, there are just four teams which do not appear to have any kind of association with a gambling business. Although most teams in League One and League Two aren't directly sponsored by gambling firms, the fact that these leagues are sponsored by Sky Bet means that it would be almost impossible for fans not to see advertising for gambling in stadiums, on programmes, shirt sleeves or on their clubs’ social media feeds.
· Our analysis shows us that, unsurprisingly, the Premier League attracts most gambling sponsorship, and the vast majority of teams have a relationship with at least one gambling business. Lower leagues do attract less gambling sponsorship, yet as the £10 million provided in 2020 by the National Lottery to support lower leagues during the pandemic shows, gambling money does appear to be vital for the survival of several clubs.
· The international nature of sponsorship is particularly striking - especially in the Premier League, where almost two thirds of the companies sponsoring the league are based outside of the UK.
Debates about the risks of gambling advertising in sports - and whether or not gambling firms should be banned from sponsoring shirts - will continue to rumble on. Yet as this research has shown, advertising for gambling in the EFL runs very deep, with complex networks and relationships between leagues, teams and gaming businesses – which suggests gambling sponsorship will likely remain an important part of the EFL for many years to come.