Burnley’s Fun88 deal reflects football’s debt to betting

Burnley: making money by having Fun
Burnley: making money by having Fun

The announcement that Burnley has signed a sponsorship deal with operator Fun88 is further evidence of the strengthening relationship between online gambling and the football in the UK.

The undisclosed two-year deal with the Asian online gaming company is the biggest shirt sponsorship in the club’s 128-year history. “We are delighted and proud to have secured Fun88 as our shirt sponsors for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons,” said Clarets chairman Barry Kilby. “This multi million pound deal is clear evidence of the global appeal of Burnley Football Club as a result of Premier League status.”

More importantly, it is proof of the increasing reliance of the beautiful game on online gambling firms, which are continuing to thrive in spite of the UK’s ongoing struggle against the recession.

“We had discussions with many top international companies expressing an interest in getting involved with the club,” added Kilby, whose side will wear the Fun88 logo on its home and away shirts as of next season. “But we feel the special relationship we have enjoyed and established with Fun88 will be one that is hugely beneficial to both parties.”

In other words Fun88 were prepared to stump up the cash and not include relegation opt-out clauses, which may well have been the case with other interested parties as Burnley, who lost 5-2 on Sunday, have now slipped to second bottom in the Premier League table.

The advertising industry has been one of the worst hit during this recession, with UK companies deciding that the first thing to go in terms of cost-cutting is the advertising spend. It is one of the key factors why newspapers, for example, have struggled to stay afloat (The Guardian) and in some cases (The London Paper, the London Lite) folded completely.

The change in circumstances was put into sharp relief by the findings of a study conducted last November by Sport+Markt, which revealed that the value of shirt sponsorship across Europe’s elite football teams had dropped significantly for the first time in several years. English sides fared particularly badly, with an overall year-on-year drop of €2m to €83.5m although this was due in part to a weak pound. Indeed England’s leading clubs can still command a high price; Manchester United signed a world record £80m four-year shirt sponsorship deal with American insurance firm Aon in the summer.

“English top clubs achieve the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deals in the world, but the gap between top and bottom is still significant, said SPORT+MARKT’s international sales director Gareth Moore. “The deals of the lower-placed teams are at the same level as some top Second Bundesliga deals.”

Burnley are the eighth top-flight side to seal a shirt sponsorship deal with an online gambling firm. The most notable tie-up saw Tottenham secure a £34m tie-up over four years with Mansion, but Hull City (Totesport), Sunderland (Boylesports) West Ham (SBOBET), Wolves and (SportingBet), Bolton and Wigan (Bet188) have all followed suit. Aston Villa (32Red), Blackburn (Bet24), Middlesbrough (888) and Fulham (Betfair) have also sported the names of bookmakers on their colours in the past.

“Shirt sponsorship guarantees that betting companies reach their target group – football fans,” added Moore. “In England, we profit from the global success and popularity of our league which makes it highly attractive for international sponsors.”

In the Championship, meanwhile, West Bromwich Albion have not been able to find a sponsor prepared to meet their sponsorship demands and so have been selling advertising space on their shirts on a week by week basis. Step forward the online bookmakers, who have sponsored the Baggies in three of their five televised appearances this season.

Meanwhile, even those Premier League clubs that don’t have a shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies, nonetheless have an online betting partner. Arsenal’s website has links to Paddy Power’s website, Manchester United puts users on to Betfair and Fulham are affiliated to Bodog.

This are lean times indeed, as Portsmouth Football Club will readily attest and as Pompey fans wait and pray for a shining knight to come and wave a £60m cheque to save them from extinction, we should recognise the hug debt football owes to the online gambling industry.