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  • Writer's pictureKai Abbott

Final Temptations: Premier League Clubs Grapple with Lucrative Offers from Gambling Corporations

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

By Kai Abbott | July 12, 2023

 

West Ham vs Fulham in April 2023, or should we say Betway vs W88? (Image: Getty Images)


It was never going to be easy. Though the Premier League’s 20 clubs may have collectively agreed to withdraw gambling sponsorship from the front of clubs’ matchday shirts after 2026, some clubs are not yet ready for the costly goodbye.

This April, the UK Gambling Commission published its long-awaited Gambling Review. The review, an effort of the Government to curb gambling’s negative influences on the sport, has been speculated to have been the straw on the camel’s back that pressured the Premier League into the ban. While the Premier League becomes the first top-flight league to make this call voluntarily, Serie A and La Liga clubs banned front-of-shirt sponsors in 2019 and 2021 respectively.

Of the 7 out of 20 clubs that had gambling-related front-of-shirt sponsorships last season, only one, Newcastle United, has deviated after the recent call. Their switch from sponsor Fun88, a UK-based sportsbook, to Saudi events enterprise Sela, will see them earn £25 million ($32m) per season, instead of £6.5 million ($8m). Newcastle United are an anomaly among the 7 other clubs who had a gambling sponsorship this past season . Both their takeover 21 months ago by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, and recent qualification for the UEFA Champions League, have drastically increased their revenues.

Clubs Aston Villa (BK8), Burnley (W88), Fulham (SBOTOP), West Ham United (Betway), Everton (Stake), and Bournemouth (Dafabet), have all continued with their long-term deals. Even Brentford, whose star striker Ivan Toney was diagnosed with a gambling addiction during his Football Association trial after admitting to 232 gambling breaches, has extended their existing partnership with South Africa-based firm Hollywoodbets for two more years.

Players of the present and past revealed the new Chelsea home kit on July 9th, though fans were surprised when they found it was sponsor-less (Image: Chelsea FC)


This final cash grab nearly reached the esteemed doors of Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea was close to a proposed one-year deal from Stake, an online casino, for £40 million ($51.2m). If it was not for the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust which called for representatives of Clearlake Capital and Guggenheim Capital, the consortium which owns Chelsea FC, to end negotiations, Chelsea may have received the 5th most lucrative sponsorship deal in football.

This scenario is both a reflection of the lucrative financial incentives at play and the impending shift in the market landscape which will take place in three years. Nowadays, the easiest money in football has shown to have an expiry date.

Unlike Chelsea, other clubs seem to be fully cognizant of the deadline, and are using their short grace period before the ban to gain some extra money. Aston Villa, a club well aware of the cut-off, triggered a break clause in their contract with online car retailer Cazoo. Their newfound partnership with BK8 will be the club’s most lucrative commercial deal yet, at £8 million ($10.3m), compared to Cazoo’s £6 million ($8.6m).

For a club like Fulham, who newly agreed on a front-of-shirt deal with SBOTOP, this morally heavy decision comes much more naturally. Fulham, after all, was the first Premier League club to carry a betting sponsor in 2002 and has since held 6 other betting companies.

For newly promoted Burnley, who won the EFL Championship this past April, an £8 million ($10.1m) deal from betting firm W88 was simply too good to turn down, compared to the less than £4 million ($5.1m) they received from Classic Football Shirts.

Aston Villa's John McGinn, Boubacar Kamara, and Ollie Watkins reveal the new home kit, along with their controversial new sponsor BK8 (Image: Aston Villa FC)


These decisions are not always black and white though. The formerly mentioned deal between Aston Villa and BK8 was lamented by the Aston Villa Supporters Trust. “The BK8 agreement is a cynical last-minute attempt to scoop the financial gains ahead of the voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling sponsors,” they said.

It is a challenging process, weighing the very moral principles that the Premier League banned this statute on, and the financial security of a club. But at the end of the day, these clubs often have to take the money that’s on the table rather than stick to former sponsors, as sponsorship deals in the Premier League trump those of the championship by nearly threefold.

Though most teams enter the 2023-24 season with their kit deals entirely set, there remain two outsiders. Sheffield United have reportedly turned down three different offers from betting companies and intends for their next yet-to-be-confirmed sponsor to be family-friendly.

Similarly, Luton Town, who after winning the Championship play-off final in May will join the Premier League for the first time in their history, also have been rumoured to have turned down multiple betting firm offers. Last November, Luton Town devoted a home game to The Big Step, a charity launched to kick gambling out of football.

Kit deals are an incredibly important aspect of the finances of a Premier League club. Just look at Chelsea, who risk a commercial shortfall that would see them miss out on nearly £60 million ($77.4m), due to financial roadblocks that struck last season’s sponsors Three and WhaleFin. Through the lens of Chelsea, it is no easy decision to take a stand against such a potentially lucrative part of the game.

With the front-of-shirt ban coming relatively soon, the Premier League and the footballing world must reconcile with what is to come. It is not clear who will fill the void of gambling sponsorships in football. This will most definitely not be the end of it though, as LED perimeter boards and sleeve sponsors will still be free-game past 2026.

Smaller clubs like Sheffield United and Luton Town, which are proportionally more affected by the coming ban, should be applauded for their choice of morals over money. Standing up for the rightful image of football, which should show the beauty of the world's greatest game past anything, should always come first. The Premier League’s action to ban another vice’s presence in the sport is another act towards progress, coming 5 years after alcohol sponsorships were banned from English shirts.

One can only hope the Premier League and fellow sporting bodies can take more steps forward in prioritzing the righteousness of sport over the siren call of cash.


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