Sports betting operator SportPesa has lost two more high-profile sports sponsorships, leading the company’s CEO to blame Kenya for “bringing down” one of their own.
On Sunday, English Premier League club Everton announced that it would end its SportPesa shirt sponsorship at the conclusion of the current season, two years ahead of their deal’s planned expiration. The club said the “difficult” decision had been made following a comprehensive review of the team’s “vision and future growth plans.”
Everton thanked the Kenya-based SportPesa for helping the team “grow our footprint in Africa and further strengthen our special relationship with the continent.” The sponsorship deal Everton signed with SportPesa in 2017 was thought to be the most lucrative deal in the club’s history, worth around £7m per year.
Sunday also saw F1 racing team Racing Point unveil its new car signage, which didn’t contain any SportPesa logos despite the company signing a ‘multi-year’ title sponsorship with Racing Point one year ago.
On Monday, Racing Point CEO Otmar Szafnauer told Motorsport that the change was made at SportPesa’s request due to the company suffering “some difficulties in their home market.” Szafnauer said SportPesa “still want to be involved but maybe at a different level – not as title [sponsor].”
SportPesa was among the betting companies that had their licenses suspended by Kenya’s government in 2019 due to disputes over alleged tax arrears. SportPesa formally closed its Kenyan operations last October while continuing to appeal the government’s new tax rules in local courts.
The two lost sponsorship deals come just one week after the early cancellation of SportPesa’s sponsorship of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). That relationship had another year left to run but the FAI called time on the deal after “re-evaluating its partnership portfolio” amid growing public controversy over football’s links to betting.
SportPesa scrapped its sponsorships of Kenyan sports last August in reaction to the government’s clampdown, but the company has a few remaining deals with teams in other African countries as well as English football clubs.
On Monday, SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri used his personal Twitter feed to claim that “Kenyans love bringing down their own,” but later clarified that he could “never blame Kenyans because they always supported us.”
Karauri’s objections were apparently directed at the Kenyan government, and he noted that the forced closure of several major Kenyan bookmakers meant that UK-based Bet365 is now “probably the most popular betting site in Kenya, more revenue for them and more tax revenue for the UK.”