EPL Wants Soccer Teams to Play Ball with Voluntary Gambling Logo Ban

The English Premier League Monday asked its 20 teams to back a plan to phase out front-of-jersey gambling sponsorship as it seeks to avert an outright government ban.

Gambling sponsorship
Gambling sponsorship
Last season, almost half of the 20 EPL teams had front-of-jersey betting logos, most targeting overseas markets where gambling might be illegal. (Image: The Guardian)

Sky News reported Friday the league had approached the government with a compromise to stave off anticipated reforms. This involved a gradual phasing out of front-of-shirt sponsorship over the next few years, allowing contracts to run their course.

However, under the proposal, gambling company logos would still be permitted to appear on jersey sleeves. Perimeter advertising at stadiums would also be permitted.

Now the EPL wants its teams to play ball. The league’s proposal is designed to soften the short, sharp shock from a sudden blanket prohibition of gambling advertising.

Under EPL regulations, agreement by 14 of the 20 teams would see the immediate adoption of the policy. But one unnamed team executive said the league had given him just days to respond to the proposal.

Uneasy Relationships

The British government is currently in the process of reforming the nation’s gambling law and is expected to approve tighter controls on the betting sector. The advertising of gambling around sports is a high priority.

A government white paper that could recommend parliament legislate for a ban is anticipated in the coming weeks. But a government source told Sky that lawmakers would be open to the idea of a self-imposed prohibition led by EPL teams.

Last season, almost half of the 20 EPL teams had front-of-jersey gambling sponsorship. That number is much higher in the second and third tiers of English soccer. Meanwhile, all EPL teams had “official betting partner” deals and some form of in-stadium visibility.

Across the top two tiers, jersey sponsorships by betting companies alone were worth a combined £100 million ($122 million) during the 2021-22 season, according to The Daily Mail.

But the ubiquity of betting advertising around sports has ignited a public backlash in the mature UK market, where there are concerns that it normalizes gambling to children.

Last month, more than 30,000 people signed an online petition protesting against Everton’s new jersey sponsor, Stake.com.

White Label Scandal

The UK betting industry also fears tighter government controls. In an effort to prove it can sensibly self-regulate, it has agreed a voluntary “whistle-to-whistle” prohibition on sports advertising.

Now, few of its big players are ready to splash the cash to sponsor the jerseys of big teams because it could actually have a negative impact. That’s created an opening for a different kind of operator.

Brands like Fun88 (Newcastle), W88 (Crystal Palace), Dafabet (Bournmouth) and Lovebet (Burnley) have no interest in targeting the UK market.

They are nominally licensed in the UK through the white-label system, where the contents and services provided on their branded websites are operated and managed by another company with UK licensing.

But really, they are interested in using the global reach of the EPL as a springboard to hard-to-reach markets, where advertising gambling is wholly illegal, such as China.

This raises questions about EPL teams’ relaxed attitudes to forming commercial partnerships with companies that may be breaking laws in foreign jurisdictions.

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