Despite their presence on every major football team’s kit for decades, believe it or not shirt sponsorship is a relatively new addition in the history of the game. Shirt sponsorship in English football clubs was first pioneered by Coventry City in 1974 after they were sponsored by Talbot with Derby County going one step further to secure the first sponsorship deal with Saab.
Despite resistance from governing bodies, by the end of the 1980s every team in the Football League had the right to sell kit sponsorships. The sport’s popularity meant businesses could capitalise on the new marketing opportunity shirt sponsors provided and the creation of the Premier League provided an incredible platform from which to tap into several emerging markets. In the three decades since the league’s inception England’s top flight has become the wealthiest and most watched division in the world which saw teams capture audiences further afield than ever before. As a result, shirt sponsorships became a hugely important tool in establishing brands and the sports betting industry has been front and centre in that trend.
Seven of the league’s 20 teams have kits with betting sponsors on them but that is about to come to an end. Fans, pundits and campaigners have long argued that the prominence of betting advertisements in sport contributes towards problem gambling and the Premier League has now decided to take action to curtail that phenomena. The Premier League’s 20 clubs have voted to voluntarily remove gambling sponsors from their matchday playing shirts with the new regulation coming into effect for the 2026/27 season. But which clubs will be affected and what is the potential fallout?
GlobalData’s Business of the English Premier League 2023/24 report highlights that seven of the 20 top flight teams have deals with betting companies worth almost £72 million. Those seven teams are AFC Bournemouth who are sponsored by Dafabet, Aston Villa sponsored by BK8, Brentford sponsored by Hollywoodbets, Burnley sponsored by W88, Everton sponsored by Stake.com, Fulham sponsored by Sbotop, and West Ham United sponsored by Betway.
All these teams have front-of-shirt sponsorship agreements with firms in the gambling sector this season and will be given until the 2026/27 season to see out their respective deals with those companies. The decision makes the Premier League the first UK sporting league to remove gambling sponsors from their participants’ kits, following the trend set by LaLiga and Serie A after the Spanish and Italian government’s intervention. In terms of the effect it will have on those clubs, the impact is minimal.
These deals exist with clubs outside the so-called ‘big six’ and the vast majority of their income for the season will come from TV money as opposed to the shirt sponsorship meaning that there should be little to no effect on the clubs’ financial resources. However, gambling companies still have the opportunity to advertise on clubs’ shirt sleeves, training tops and stadium advertising hoardings. Even though the ban is scheduled for 2026, for now football clubs are still free to enter into agreements with top sports betting sites. If any of those teams did suffer as a result of the lack of sponsorship on the front of their shirts, they could benefit from the increased competition that the reduced space to advertise provides, driving up the price in order to retain space to market their companies. However, clubs outside the ‘big six’ have typically struggled to attract offers from non-betting brands that can help them close the gap in investment. Given the current economic market and the ability of clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea to pick and choose from a large pool of suitors, clubs lower down the table in desperate need of a cash injection may struggle to find replacements.
The move from the Premier League comes at a time when the government is considering clamping down on the betting industry amidst concerns over problem gambling. Over the course of the Covid pandemic, there was a worrying increase in the amount of gambling from potentially vulnerable groups largely as a result of the economic situation of the time.
The Premier League was one of few forms of entertainment allowed to persist throughout the pandemic and it was suspected that the exposure of betting industry advertising fed into the problem to a limited degree. While the Premier League clearly benefits from a public relations standpoint in making the move, the timing of such a decision is somewhat convenient. The government recently shared plans to introduce an independent regulator to look over English football to monitor situations such as this one as well as to keep tabs on financial matters and reel in clubs abusing their influence with ventures such as the Super League.
With that context, this could just be the latest in a string of measures enacted by the Premier League to try and convince the government that the league is capable of regulating itself and maintain its grasp on the majority of rulings for the long term. Two of the other most notable measures have seen the league charge Manchester City with financial breaches after the club’s enormous expenditure and update its ownership rules to prevent anyone found to have committed human rights abuses from owning a team from this point onwards. It seems as though the Premier League have taken the easy route earning them criticism from Care chief executive Ross Hendry who said: “It is hugely disappointing to see so many Premier League clubs still making sponsorship deals with gambling companies. Given the impetus for this move is protecting vulnerable fans, it is hard to understand why the Premier League is dragging its heels. Gambling industry wealth is no substitute for fan welfare.”
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