Betting on the Shirt

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As more and more bookies turn to football sponsorship to build their brands, are we about to see politicians stepping in with tighter regulations?

Tipico and the Austrian Football Bundesliga have announced an extension of their sponsorship partnership, which will now run until the end of the 2019–20 football season.

Sports betting company Tipico was founded in Germany but has been headquartered in Malta since 2004 and now employs 6,000 people around Europe.

Tipico chief communications officer Marlon van der Goes said: “Tipico and the Bundesliga stand for football, for trust, and constant development. Our engagement in Austria has been promoting local football since 2014 and … we look forward to the coming seasons and a new chapter in our partnership.”

Warm words – and words which are being used more often around the world as the link between the beautiful game and the bookmakers becomes ever closer.

Bookmakers are now sponsoring football leagues, and their names are appearing with increasing frequency as the main sponsors on team shirts. Half of the teams in the UK Premier League are now sponsored by betting or gaming companies, ranging from the £10m ($14m) paid to West Ham by Betway, down to the £1.5m ($2.1m) that newcomers Huddersfield Town receive from Ope Sports.

Go back a few years and ask the average football fan to list all the bookmakers he knew, and he’d reply with Ladbrokes, Hills, and Corals – the names he saw on the high street. Depending on where he lived, he might add BetFred and Paddy Power to the list.

But now sponsorship of football – either through shirt sponsorship or working with the relevant league – is changing all that. Ask your typical football fan the same question now and he’d reply with Bet365, Betfair, and Skybet. Yes, even I think of it as the Skybet Championship now…

Name recognition

The tag line might well be “When the fun stops, stop”, but what is not stopping for the bookmakers is name recognition – and that is why football is so attractive to them. We might not be able to name Ope Sports, but Huddersfield Town fans certainly will – just as supporters of Swansea will be well acquainted with Asia-facing, sports-betting operator, LeTou.

LeTou CEO Paul Fox said: “For us [sponsoring Swansea] is a branding exercise. Le Tou is very well known in Asia, but not as well known as our competitors in the UK. What these sponsorships can do for us is help us become a brand name, a real household name in the industry.”

No bookmaker has achieved that leap to household name better than Bet365, with its long-standing sponsorship of Stoke City – both on the shirts and through the re-naming of the stadium – and its iconic TV adverts with Ray Winstone. “I am a member of the world’s biggest online betting community,” growls Ray – and if he is, that is all due to the bookmaker’s close connection with football.

Will more bookmakers follow suit?

‘Yes’ seems to be the obvious answer to that question. The big clubs in the Premier League may well stay with their existing sponsors such as Chevrolet, Yokohama Tyres, and Standard Chartered, but the teams who have “survival” as their number one priority when the season kicks off will undoubtedly be prime targets for bookmakers’ sponsorships. And after all, the mighty Real Madrid were sponsored by Bwin, with the sponsorship deal establishing Bwin as one of Europe’s main betting companies.

Will the politicians intervene?

The only thing that might break up this mutually beneficial relationship is the attitude of the politicians and the regulators. We have recently seen the government in the UK move to reduce the maximum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – the lifeblood of many betting shops – and it seems distinctly possible that action could be taken against bookmakers’ names appearing on shirts.

Teams cannot sell replica junior kit that has a bookmaker’s name on it, and an extension of that to the shirts the team wear in games could be a logical step. Paul Fox commented: “It really depends on the political climate and which party wins the general elections. If the Conservatives win [the next election] then it is pretty much business as usual. If Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party got into power, then I think they would look to stop sports sponsorship on jerseys from gaming companies.”

That sums it up exactly. Come the date of the next general election in the UK, the bookies could be putting their shirts on Theresa May…

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