Football sponsorship can be a murky world. Whether it's companies that you’ve suspiciously never heard of, a state-affiliated airline, or promoting Ed Sheeran's latest tour, there’s no end to the weird and ‘wonderful’ partnerships to be made.
One specific type of partnership though is causing more of a stir than others, and unfortunately, it’s one that now lands right on our doorstep. As clubs across the country start to turn away from sponsorship offered by gambling companies, Sunderland have seemingly opened their arms to a multi-year deal with an online bookmaker.
Quite recently, the negative impact and parasitic tendencies of gambling companies as a whole has come to the front with a supposed “whistle to whistle” ban on gambling advertising during Premier League games making absolutely no difference, with upwards of 500 gambling logos being displayed during a ninety minute period in any league game.
Football, like horse racing, has a long-standing link with the gambling industry which has been revolutionised by online betting and apps. These links have seen everything from teams to leagues be sponsored by betting companies who use the captive audience of football to assault a match-day goers senses with gambling-affiliated content.
This really hits home when during every home game both before kick-off and during halftime - in a betting company sponsored league, in a game featuring teams sponsored by betting companies - fans both home and away are bombarded with on-screen and pitch side advertisements if not by just one betting company, but multiple.
What this results in is an inescapable situation where football fans are cajoled and encouraged to part with their cash on a weekly basis. This continual assault is also a calculated one too, by normalising gambling and associating viewing football with betting on football, addicition is becoming commonplace.
What is most worrying of all is that a study completed in 2019 by Cardiff University noted two-fifths of 11-16 year-olds had gambled at least once in the year leading up to the study. What’s more, those who engage in gambling at a younger age are far more likely to grow into becoming problem gamblers in later life.
What makes this so unsavoury though is the ongoing negative impact gambling is having on not only football fans, but everyday people. Additionally to this, in certain cases of sponsorship the deal itself becomes entirely predatory when you consider the fact that people from deprived areas are the most likely to become high-risk, high-loss gamblers - a fact that betting companies will be fully aware of when brokering their deals.
What makes this an issue now more so than ever is not only the harrowing statistics in relation to gambling and addiction, but also the unavoidable links between poverty and gambling, expected to heighten during the current climate. That level of increased exposure, even by just one additional sponsor, can be the difference between addiction or not as well as in some cases being a trigger to relapses for recovering addicts.
So, when we think about it as ‘just another sponsor’, we should all do well to remember that these companies aren’t just sponsors, they’re parasites feeding on the game we love.
With every sponsor is increased exposure and with increased exposure is a gambler in waiting and so is a problem gambler. In an industry where 19% of problem gamblers have thought about or attempted suicide, aligning with a gambling sponsor seems a far cry away from a team who carried the logo of the charity MIND on their shirts not too long ago.