Gambling Sponsorship and Advertising in Sport

Ronán Daly examines the relationship between betting companies and sports, and asks whether gambling sponsorship deals are responsible..

If you’re like any sane person, the image of Ray Winston’s floating head in a football stadium telling you to bet in play would seem like some sort of weird fever dream, yet this is the world of betting advertisements where anything seems to go. Whether it’s a small man in your brain throwing a javelin at an oversized dart board telling you to heed your hunch or Paddy Power acting like they’re your best friend on Twitter, there seems to be no escaping the somewhat bizarre world of gambling advertisements.  

It’s not to say there should be a complete ban on gambling. Like alcohol, these things can be fine in moderation. However, there has to be a serious conversation as to whether the way we currently promote gambling is responsible, just as there has been a move towards more responsible alcohol advertisement. Should there be a move towards a ban on gambling ads before the watershed and stricter regulation on gambling sponsorships for sports teams? 

Should there be a move towards a ban on gambling ads before the watershed and stricter regulation on gambling sponsorships for sports teams

A 2020 study from the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine examined the frequency of gambling advertisements for live sporting events on TV. Of the 65 events they used for the study 49 of them (75.4%) featured gambling ads during the break and they were the third most common form of fixed advertising. The study found that football was the sport where they were most prevalent. Over the 65-events gambling made up 6.4% of the advertisements and in football they made up 8.5%, making them the fourth most common type of advertisement in football.

Not only are gambling ads prevalent in football, the way in which gambling is advertised is just plainly irresponsible in a lot of cases. Most ads for betting companies contain the slogan “when the fun stops, stop”, however it’s hard to take this seriously when you have ads telling you to “heed your hunch” and a constant bombardment of C-list celebrities and retired footballers telling you to bet in play. 

This also coincides with a concerning rise in the number of football teams being sponsored by betting companies. Of the 20 clubs in the 2021/22 Premier league, nine of them have a betting company as their main shirt sponsor, and in 2020/21 only 3 of the clubs didn’t have an official gambling partner. In Ireland, the two most successful clubs over the last decade, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, both currently sport a gambling sponsor on the front of their jerseys. 

A 2019 report from the European Gambing and Betting Association found that in that year €107.1 million was invested in European sports through sponsorships. It’s obvious these sorts of deals are financially desirable for the owners of football clubs. However, despite there technically being no ban on alcohol shirt sponsors in the Premier League, there has been a clear move away from them by the clubs, with Everton in 2017 being the last club to feature an alcohol sponsor on their kits. 

Like alcohol, gambling shirt sponsors cannot feature on the jerseys of underage teams or children’s replica kits, yet it’s completely fine for people under the age of 18 to go and watch their idols wearing a betting companies’ logo and have a betting ad thrown in their face during every ad break when watching a game on tv. If alcohol can’t be advertised this easily to underaged people, why are bookies able to get away with it? 

it’s hard to take this seriously when you have ads telling you to “heed your hunch” and a constant bombardment of C-list celebrities and retired footballers telling you to bet in play

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t a problem confined to England and the Premier League, the Journal of Psychological Medicine was a study of ads appearing on Irish television and a H2 gambling report in 2020 showed Ireland to have 4th highest gambling spend in the EU at €300 per capita. Dundalk’s move from Fyffes, who had sponsored the club for seven years and supported them for much of their dominant period in Irish football, to BetRegal, an unknown gambling company, caused uproar at the time. While the change was part of the wider problem of the now departed Peak6 ownership it was a move that was clearly based on pure financial grounds, removing a sponsor that had supported the club when they were struggling and selling out to the highest bidder. 

A Shamrock Rovers stunt during last year’s Europa League Qualifying game against Italian giants AC Milan also caused controversy, as every stand in Tallaght stadium, which was empty due to Covid-19, was covered in massive Paddy Power banners poking fun at star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Fortunately, the banners were removed before the game, but not because of any protest to being a sell out to a betting company, but because the Swedish striker was unimpressed with them. 

The current state of gambling advertisement and sponsorship is basically a free for all. The current advertising standards in Ireland ban advertising to children and ads from portraying gambling as enhancing the live sport experience. In reality, kids can watch their favourite players wear a betting companies’ logo across their chest and watch ads for these companies at any time of the day, which mostly portray people enjoying sport while gambling. There should be a move towards more responsible advertising. 

A Gambling Control Bill that has been sitting on the Minister for Justice’ desk since 2013 deals with some of these issues. Under the bill people considered idols wouldn’t be able to appear in advertising, and advertisements could be banned before the watershed. These would be welcome changes, also considering that the Premier League has said this year that it will consider the future of gambling sponsorships, with the potential view to moving away from them as shirt sponsors as there had been a move away from alcohol sponsors. Just as it’s fine to go out for a few pints to enjoy the match with your friends, betting can be fine in moderation, but more responsibility has to be taken in the way we promote gambling in live sports.