William Hill Reviews UK Advertising Strategy After Whistle-to-Whistle Ban

William Hill betting shop sign

30-second summary

  • Decision follows whistle-to-whistle ban on ads
  • UK is William Hill’s biggest market
  • Other gambling operators expected to follow move
  • William Hill moving into US sports betting market

Bookmaker William Hill has announced it is reviewing its advertising spending and placements in the UK following the agreement on the whistle-to-whistle ban. The UK market provides most of William Hill’s business. But since the federal ban on sports betting in the US was overturned, William Hill has been busy establishing a foothold there.

The first of many

The company’s decision is not entirely unexpected. The whistle-to-whistle advertising ban is a voluntary agreement by betting companies not to advertise during live sports events. The ban comes into effect in July and aims to curb betting by problem gamblers.

However, the ban means betting operators will take a financial hit. William Hill is only the first to make public its decision to review its media strategy. Other gambling companies are certain to follow suit.

William Hill’s current advertising business is held by Vizeum, which has been invited to pitch new ideas for publicity to the company after eight years.  The contract is for multiple millions of pounds.

A changing landscape

The whistle-to-whistle ban means that no betting companies will show any advertisements during live sports events before 9 pm. Only horse racing and greyhound racing are exempt from the ban.

Up until now, companies have earned sizeable revenues from spectators placing bets during play. The ads encourage viewers to “bet now” during the commercial breaks. But the change means that TV channels are expected to lose some £200m ($259m) worth of annual advertising spend by gambling operators.

The CEO of one media agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the advertising industry publication, Campaign, that the ban would have “a massive impact on the amount of money those clients are spending on advertising – and, consequently, the agencies they’re paying to make those ads, and buy those slots.”

They said: “It’s not for me to comment on how reliant other agencies are on those fees or commissions, but it’s worth pointing out that a couple of months ago, nine of the 16 creative agencies in Campaign’s new business table were there courtesy of a gambling client.”

Sky goes further

British digital broadcaster Sky UK has gone a step beyond the Code for Socially Responsible Advertising. It has announced a new advertising policy across all its TV channels of showing only one gambling-related ad in each commercial break. The policy comes into effect at the start of the 2019-2020 English soccer season, probably in early August.

Sky UK is currently developing new technology, called AdSmart, that will enable viewers to block gambling ads completely from June 2020 on any of its channels. The company controls advertising across 140 TV channels, including those on cable TV broadcaster Virgin Media, which also shows sports events.

A further revenue hit, not just for William Hill, will come in April when the government will force betting companies to slash the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 ($129) to £2 ($2.60). Most companies have already announced widespread closures of betting shops.

Looking across the Atlantic

William Hill is busy creating a foothold in the US sports betting market. The Supreme Court overturned the federal sports betting ban in May 2018. Since then, eight states have introduced legislation to permit sports betting within their borders. A significant number of other states are pushing through their own laws this year.

William Hill opened a sports betting lounge at the home stadium of the New Jersey Devils in December 2018. The facility allows bettors using the William Hill mobile app to place bets there and watch live games on more than 30 giant screens. William Hill also operates facilities at the Monmouth Park racetrack and the Ocean Resort Casino in New Jersey.

The company has signed a multi-year partnership deal with an NHL hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Under the agreement, William Hill will run sports betting facilities at the Knights’ T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It will offer in-arena signage, a TV-visible dashboard and the Knight Tron featuring updated league-wide odds during intermissions of the team’s games.

Elsewhere in the US, the company is the risk manager for Delaware’s sports lottery and is a licensed sports betting provider for several casinos in Mississippi and at least one casino in West Virginia.

As the gambling landscape in the UK changes and ad revenues shrink, the US is likely to become more important for William Hill, and its current expansion there suggests it now sees the UK market as less important.