Asian-facing online gambling operator K8 Group is backing a bid to acquire UK footballers Wigan Athletic.
On Sunday, UK media reported that an unidentified group of Chinese investors was prepping a £15m bid to acquire Wigan Athletic Football Club, which currently plays in League One, the third tier of UK football. On Wednesday, The Sun reported that the bidders were the same folks behind the Philippines-based, UK-licensed uk-K8.com online gambling site.
K8 Group CEO Vincent Huang has reportedly visited the Manchester area to firm up the acquisition plans following the necessary due diligence. The deal will require the approval of the Football League.
K8 already has firm ties to UK football, having inked a shirt deal with English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion in 2016. This year saw K8 further burnish its UK football presence by inking official betting partnerships with EPL side Manchester City and Championship squad Cardiff City FC.
There is precedent for K8 seeking ownership of a prominent UK football club. There are currently two other football teams owned by betting businesses: Stoke City, which is owned by Stoke-based online betting powerhouse Bet365, while sports betting whale/poker player Tony Bloom (the man behind ‘betting consultancy’ Starlizard) owns a controlling stake in newly promoted EPL side Brighton & Hove Albion FC. (By a quirk of fate, the Seagulls earned promotion to the EPL this spring by defeating Wigan Athletic.)
Still, gambling’s increasingly visible profile in UK football has proven controversial of late, with nine of 20 EPL clubs currently featuring a gaming operator’s logo on their jersey fronts. The Labour party recently adopted a policy position that would ban betting companies from engaging in such promotional activities, while the Football Association called time on its betting partnership with Ladbrokes just one year into a four-year deal, citing concerns over the ‘appropriateness’ of such relationships.