How the betting industry has become inextricably linked to football

Through sponsorship and advertising,the gambling industry has successfully and deeply hitched itself to the world’s most popular game

It should come as no surprise that the gambling industry has hitched itself to the world’s most popular game. Here are some of the ways that the betting industry has become inextricably linked to football.

Half of the Premier League’s 20 clubs have a gambling sponsor on their shirt and the proportion rises to 17 out of 24 among clubs in the Championship, which is itself sponsored by Sky Bet. Labour has said it would ban gambling shirt sponsorship if elected.

As well as shirts, companies frequently sponsor entire stands or stadiums. Stoke City are owned by the Coates family, who also own Bet365, hence the Bet365 stadium. Combined with pitchside hoardings, this means gambling logos are visible throughout televised football matches, even when there are no adverts. In a study of three episodes of the BBC’s flagship football highlights programme Match of the Day, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London found that gambling logos or branding appeared on screen for between 71% and 89% of the show’s running time.


The industry recently volunteered to stop advertising during games, the so-called “whistle-to-whistle” ban, amid mounting concern that young fans were being bombarded with gambling ads. However, the voluntary ban has not always been respected and betting firms are still advertising heavily on television before and after matches.

Last year, Sky Bet withdrew adverts that featured the former Arsenal and England player Paul Merson, who has spoken of his struggles with gambling addiction.

Some firms are still testing the limits of advertising regulations, though. The Advertising Standards Authority recently banned a YouTube video launched by West Ham’s sponsor Betway because it featured the 20-year-old midfielder Declan Rice. Gambling adverts are not meant to feature people under 25. Gambling firms continue to advertise heavily on radio and on social media, where it is often hard to prevent exposure to children.

Bespoke deals

Betting firms are launching more imaginative partnerships with football clubs and players. Derby County and Wayne Rooney took flak over the involvement of their sponsor, the online casino 32Red, in a deal in which the former England captain wore the No 32 upon joining the club.

Huddersfield Town players took to the pitch for a pre-season friendly wearing shirts with a huge Paddy Power logo on them. The gambling firm claimed it was a hoax intended to highlight its support for removing betting sponsors from football shirts. The FA didn’t see it that way and fined the club £50,000.

There are more subtle ways for bookmakers to promote their brand in partnership with football clubs. At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, fans are treated to fast wifi connection. But they won’t be able to access the websites of rivals to William Hill, because of a deal the club have with the bookmaker.

Matchday programmes

Even the time-honoured club programme isn’t free from the branding of gambling companies, particularly when the home team is sponsored by one of them. In one case highlighted by psychology experts, a logo for the online casino 888 featured as the answer to a Spot The Difference competition aimed at young Birmingham City fans. Analysis of 44 programmes from the Premier League and Championship found they featured an average of 2.3 gambling adverts, four times as many as for alcohol.

VIP schemes

The Guardian revealed this month the extent to which the betting sector profits from so-called VIP schemes, which target the people who lose the most money and offer them rewards. Several VIPs told the Guardian they were frequently offered football tickets in exchange for their custom. On one occasion, Ladbrokes agreed to pay for business class return flights from Dubai to London, worth more than £2,000, so that a client could attend the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham. He was a problem gambler who was betting with £1m he had stolen from clients.

Global appeal

The Premier League is truly global and betting firms know this. Many of the gambling firms that sponsor football shirts in the UK are not targeting British gamblers. It is illegal to advertise as a betting company in China, so gambling firms based in Asia use the profile of English football to access that hard-to-reach market.

A recent BBC documentary showed how companies such as Betway are exploiting the obsession of young men in Uganda with football. Some of the people featured in the documentary were gambling with what little they had and were losing everything.

Concerns have also been raised about how the Everton sponsor SportPesa may be fuelling an online gambling craze in Kenya, while Tottenham terminated a partnership with 1XBet, which was accused of tempting young Kenyans into addiction.


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