FA Slammed for Allowing Bet-to-View Matches Despite Mental Health Charity Links

  • Controversy arose after last weekend's pre-match screening of royal mental health charity video
  • FA broke promise to distance itself from gambling, entered agreement with Bet365 through IMG
  • Operator's media rights deal with FA sees users placing wagers to watch matches for free
mobile betting app and credit card
The FA’s media rights deal with Bet365 drew heavy criticism after the association screened Prince William’s mental health charity video before matches over the past weekend. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The FA breaks its promise

The UK’s Football Association (FA) has come under fire for its decision to allow Bet365 to broadcast FA Cup matches, despite promising two years ago that it would end gambling partnerships. The media rights deal was seriously questioned when it continued over the past weekend as the association gave prominence to Prince William’s mental health charity.

The media rights deal with Bet365 allows soccer fans the facility to ‘bet-to-view’. In return for topping up an account with £5 ($6.56) or placing a bet through the sports betting operator’s app, users are able to stream the match live.

Back in July 2017, the FA said it would not be looking for a new betting partner after terminating a previous £4m ($5.24m) contract with Ladbrokes. However, it then teamed up with IMG, which brokered the current agreement with Bet365.

Royal mental health charity video delays games

Over the weekend, FA president Prince William was featured narrating a 60-second film that talks about the importance of mental health.

The release of the awareness-raising video was a collaboration between Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters, the Football Association, and Heads Together’s Heads Up campaign.

The film screening delayed the start of soccer matches by a minute. While some of the delayed games were not broadcast on Bet365’s online website and app, 23 matches were.

Media rights agreement an “own goal”

With the video commissioned to highlight the link between gambling and mental health, NHS national mental health director Claire Murdoch said the deal agreed by the FA and Bet365 was

another own goal from the gambling industry.”

This comes after a three-month review was ordered by FA chairman Greg Clarke in 2017 to look at the relationship between betting companies and soccer teams.

Bet365 publicity brings association under fire

Despite severing ties with Ladbrokes because of the gambling issues raised, the FA okayed a further partnership with IMG, which has since leased the media rights to Bet365.

The betting company has heavily promoted its involvement this season through social media. Such publicity has brought the association under fire over the weekend, when it had hoped to focus on raising mental health awareness.

In its defense, the FA has said that, as the contract between IMG and Bet365 is not due to run out until the end of next season, and considering that FA media rights as a whole are not up for tender until the 2024-25 season, nothing can be done until a new process is started.

“Things have moved on”

Government ministers have since responded with their own criticism, saying things have changed since the initial deal was struck.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Nicky Morgan said of the contract that “things have moved on”, appealing to the FA to reconsider. Her call was backed by Sports Minister Nigel Adams, who said,

All sports bodies need to be mindful of the impact that problem gambling can have on the most vulnerable.”

In its statement, the association informed: “The FA agreed a media rights deal with IMG in early 2017, part of which permits them to sell the right to show live footage or clips of FA Cup matches to bookmakers. Bet365 acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018-19 season.”

It added that it will review its media rights sales process “ahead of tendering rights to the new cycle from the 2024-25 season onwards.”

In the meantime, soccer clubs in the UK will continue to broker deals themselves. This season, ten of the 20 Premiership clubs have been sponsored by a gambling company.