English Football League defends gambling sponsorships ahead of gov’t review


The English Football League (EFL) is defending its gambling sponsorship ties as the UK government mulls a potential ban on betting operators promoting their products via major sports.

On Sunday, the EFL issued a statement saying the ties binding football and gambling were “long-standing, with a collaborative, evidence-based approach to preventing gambling harms of much greater benefit than that of a blanket ban of any kind.”

The UK government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is preparing to review the Gambling Act 2005, with the results of this review expected sometime next year. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly taken a personal interest in shaping the results of this long-awaited review.

Gambling marketing is expected to be a key focus of the review, with a House of Lords committee recently singling out sports sponsorships as a particular area of interest. The committee proposed delaying any sponsorship ban to 2023 for “clubs below the Premier League” to find time to adjust to the new fiscal reality but otherwise wants gambling to vanish from sport.

The EFL’s three divisions have had title sponsorships with Flutter Entertainment’s Sky Bet brand for the better part of a decade now, while two-thirds of Championship League clubs have betting or gaming firms as their primary shirt sponsor. These partnerships are worth over £40m per EFL season, “an important and vital income stream for our membership in a time of financial crisis.”

Despite the inability to generate revenue by selling tickets at their home fields due to COVID-19, EFL members have nonetheless continued to meet their financial obligations. The EFL notes that professional sport has yet to receive “any indication of a roadmap that will allow the safe return of supporters to stadiums, despite other sectors being able to welcome people through their doors.”  

The lack of said roadmap may actually be a blessing in disguise, given the false hope that many other retail sectors eagerly embraced only to be faced with a second round of lockdowns as the UK’s pandemic entered its second wave. Regardless, the EFL said this “inconsistency is frustrating and perplexing.”

The EFL pledged to continue its “open and regular dialogue with all relevant stakeholders – including the government” and hopes to contribute to any call for evidence included in the government review.

A recent survey found 58% of respondents believed there were too many gambling sponsorships in UK football, with the strongest objections coming from sports fans in the 18-34 age demo.

The EFL and Sky Bet have worked together on responsible gambling promotion, including having players from all three divisions wearing sleeve badges promoting problem gambling awareness.

This weekend, Championship side Swansea City AFC announced an 18-month collaboration with The Big Step, a football-focused Gambling With Lives charity project based around individuals who’ve suffered personal harm from gambling. In Swansea’s case, the program will be delivered by Swans fan Nick Philips, a recovering gambling addict.