Gambling firms to be banned from UK shirt sponsorship?

Gambling firms to be banned from UK shirt sponsorship?

With the UK Gambling Review well underway and the White Paper (detailing the official proposals for future legislation) expected any day, sports teams

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With the UK Gambling Review well underway and the White Paper (detailing the official proposals for future legislation) expected any day, sports teams and betting brands are keenly discussing one particular issue; UK shirt sponsorship. The hot topic of discussion is whether the new regulations will outlaw front-of-shirt sponsors for UK sports and football teams. The gambling review is also exploring other ways of reducing the amount of gambling and betting advertisements within sports, including pitchside hoardings and TV commercials coming under the spotlight.

Why is Greater Regulation Needed?

In 2005 the Gambling Act removed many broadcasting and advertising regulations, which allowed gambling brands to advertise like any other service (but with slightly more controls in place, we’ll discuss these below). Previously, only lottery and bingo advertisements were permitted on TV and the radio. 

In 2019, The UK Gambling Commission reported that 87% of adults and 69% of young people had heard such advertisements or seen sponsorships. According to the Advertising Standards Authority, exposure levels have remained steady across the last six years, with adults seeing on average 13.8 ads per week and children 3. GambleAware has also noted a move towards online and social media advertising, estimating spending upwards of £1.5bn since 2017. One of the primary aims of the Gambling Review is to update regulations to account for such changes in consumer behaviour, advertising and the general gambling landscape. 

The central issue for regulators is protecting underage persons and those vulnerable to gambling harm from exposure to advertisements and ensuring the industry operates in a socially responsible way.

Current Advertising Rules for Betting Brands

Under current regulations, UK Advertising Codes make it clear that gambling adverts of all kinds must be socially responsible, not target under 18s, and must not encourage irresponsible gambling behaviour. What’s more, operator licensing conditions state advertisements that encourage gambling (such as bonuses) must be in line with consumer law, that operators are responsible for the marketing of any affiliates they partner with, and direct marketing to self-excluded players must be prevented. 

Additionally, there is a Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising, which operators adhere to voluntarily. The code details the rules for when gambling adverts can be shown, including a ban on airing in-between programs aimed at children, a pre-watershed ban on TV adverts, and a “whistle to whistle” ban for live sports. According to the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC), this last measure led to a 97% drop in the number of gambling ads seen by children at that time. Lastly, as much as possible, online adverts must not target vulnerable players.

What Do the Teams Think?

In the UK currently, gambling brands sponsor nine Premier League clubs (that’s 45% using betting firms as their front-of-shirt sponsor). Six Championship clubs also have similar agreements, which suggests a considerable reliance in the football industry on such sponsorship. This was especially clear during the pandemic when sporting events were cancelled, and the English football league received £40m, horse racing received £350m, and snooker, darts and rugby league received more than £12.5m from the gambling industry.

However, there is support within the sports sector for such regulation. This April, 20 football clubs signed a letter calling for a total gambling sponsorship ban, advocating that sports can survive without betting sponsorship by sourcing other deals from “socially responsible” partnerships. The teams included Championship club Luton Town and the Bolton Wanderers, Forest Green and Tranmere Rovers.

According to ITV, the letter stated; “As owners, directors, and executives responsible for our clubs, we have witnessed the harmful growth of gambling sponsorship and advertising in football, including the negative impact on our fans […] A ban on gambling logos on shirts would be a significant acceptance of the harm caused, but we would encourage you to include all gambling advertising in stadiums and competition sponsorship so every young fan can go to any football match – home and away – free of inducements to gamble. […] It seems clear to us that our fans, the players and the public, support our stance, with the only barrier seemingly being the financial impact on clubs.”

Financial Concerns Created by Lack of Betting Firm Sponsorship

The UKGC recognises that advertising contributes significant revenue to both broadcasters and sports teams and, until now, asked clubs to consider their role and responsibility towards fans in this respect. As part of the review, the Commission has also called for positive and negative evidence, stating that it must “strike an appropriate balance in developing policy”.

Not all members of the UK sports industry have responded positively to the suggestion, with Michael Dugher, CEO of the BGC, pointing towards the much needed financial support provided by the gambling industry, highlighting that the UKGC has already established there is no causal link between exposure to advertising and problem gambling. According to the BGC, the betting industry provides millions of pounds in vital funding to the English Football League and other sports, especially when the pandemic has left many a “black hole” on the balance sheets.

Other Areas Up for Review

Sports sponsorship is not the only area up for reform, with sweeping changes expected to several areas, including those that will particularly affect UK slot sites. Current proposals have discussed affordability checks for players, monthly deposit limits, stake size restrictions, and others. Until now, only fixed-odds betting terminals have been subject to regulation, with rules not extending to online games.