One to watch: Gambling advertising and sponsorship in sport

December 09, 2020

It is unfortunate timing for sports who are already struggling with the effects of the pandemic but we’ve been here before.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has launched a review of UK gambling laws, in particular considering the All Party Parliamentary Gambling Related Harm Group report which proposed eradicating betting sponsorships in sport by the end of 2023. The report suggested that no gambling advertising should be permitted in or near any sports ground or venue.

The move would follow similar directives by certain European countries, namely Italy – which no longer permits such sponsorships – and Spain, where a ban will come into force at the end of the current football season.

While any ban would affect all sports, football, which within the UK has suffered considerably as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic like a number of sports, would be particularly hard hit since half of the clubs in the Premier League and 15 out of 24 clubs in the Championship currently carry betting company sponsorship on their shirts. Reliance on revenue from betting companies only increases in the lower leagues of the English Football League.

The timing of this seems a little off to many. Although we all of course want to see responsible gambling, sports are already struggling to survive, especially at lower levels, due to the ongoing pandemic. Key figures within the industry have been outspoken about the timing of the review and any imminent change potentially being catastrophic for the game, but we have been here before – although arguably not in the midst of a global pandemic of this magnitude.

Just under 20 years ago, by virtue of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, tobacco companies were banned from entering into sponsorship agreements whose purpose was the promotion of tobacco products in the UK, with a stronger and more wide-ranging EU-wide ban on tobacco companies and sports sponsorship coming into effect in 2005. At the time, tobacco sponsorship was a key revenue stream for Formula 1, which ultimately adapted and repositioned itself with significant success.

Either way, rightsholders and betting companies alike will want to pay close attention to the outcome of the review also where considering longer term commercial strategies which could be directly affected by any change. This is one that interested parties need to keep an eye on and prepare for what might come next.