Gambling away the shirt off their backs

A review of UK gambling laws is underway and shirt sponsorships are in campaigners’ crosshairs

Looking back it may seem strange to remember how many cigarette brands used to sponsor sports teams and tournaments before a 2002 ban on smoking adverts was extended to sports sponsorship in 2005.

In a couple of years, we may be saying the same about gambling. The Gambling Act of 2005 is under review with the Government placing a deadline for the end of March 2021 for interested parties to send in submissions. New legislation could be drawn up and presented to parliament before the end of the year.

Already, the talk in sport and media circles is that this could mean a serious curtailment on sports gambling advertising, possibly a ban, but also a possible end to event and team sponsorships.

This could have a massive impact on football. Half of the teams in the Premier League have shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies, as do 17 of the 24 in the league below, The Championship. The Times estimated in October 2020 that shirt sponsorship deals signed last year alone brought in £69m for these topflight clubs.

Government ready to act

The former Conservative Party Leader and prominent member of the cross-parliament group on gambling harm, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, told The Sunday Times in late January 2021 that he would welcome an all-out ban on gambling advertising.

The group claims to have already found 55,000 cases of problem gambling among children. Protection of minors from gambling, in the digital age, is one of the considerations the Government is looking at with the beefing up of the 2005 Act. So, too, are VIP schemes which are believed to encourage people to gamble more than they should.

In announcing the review, the Government did point out that, since September 2020, gambling companies have voluntarily agreed to have no gambling advertising accompanying live sport broadcast before the watershed. They also vowed to ensure 20% of adverts would primarily support a responsible gambling message.

As sport emerges from nearly a year of spectators being banned from live events, it is widely anticipated many teams in a variety of sports are now facing a cash shortfall. This could turn into a crisis if legislation forbids gambling sponsorship. Both gaming companies and the teams they support will be anxiously looking for another way forward.

Featured image: MDI /

Sean Hargrave

Sean Hargrave is the former Innovation Editor of The Sunday Times, now freelancing for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Wired and digital marketing, websites, Econsultancy, Marketing Week, London Research and Mediapost. He uses more than two decades of experience in the media to help companies with their content and communications strategy to deliver leads through white papers, blogs and opinion pieces. For MediaCat UK, Sean keeps ahead of the latest news and trends.

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