Bookmakers to consider voluntary ban on shirt sponsorship in sport

5 February 2020

Several leading bookmakers in the UK have told a House of Lords Committee that they would consider a voluntary ban on gambling sponsorship on sports jerseys and perimeter advertising boards.

The House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry met yesterday (4 February) to take evidence from a number of representatives from the gambling market.

Kenny Alexander, chief executive of GVC Holdings; Ulrik Bengtsson, the chief executive of William Hill; Ian Proctor, chief executive of Sky Betting and Gaming; John Coates, joint chief Executive of Bet365; and Dan Taylor, chief executive of Paddy Power Betfair were all present.

Brigid Simmonds, chair of industry body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), was also in attendance to answer questions from the Committee.

Sports sponsorship was one of the major topics of discussion at the hearing, with concerns raised over the amount fans are exposed to, especially when watching English Premier League football.

Simmonds said that the BGC and its members are looking at the issue and would consider a voluntary ban, but also stated that such sponsorship can be positive as it allows licensed operators to portray responsible gambling messages.

“I think there are good messages; all the sponsorship that goes on with clubs is about putting responsible messages up as well as the name, but we are actively considering our options,” Simmonds said.

“Grassroots sports benefits from a lot of the money put into sport and we want that sponsorship to be used responsibly. We go into clubs and work with players and coaches to ensure they know the rules.”

Sky Bet’s Proctor agreed with this point, saying that the operator used 70% of the inventory it holds through its sponsorship deal with the English Football League to promote responsible gambling messages.

Proctor said: “Fundamentally, we are licensed, regulated and it is important that we do have the opportunity to advertise, but do it responsibly. The tone and how we do it is up for discussion, and we would welcome a review, as we all agree we need to look at this.”

Alexander, of GVC, the parent company of Ladbrokes and Coral, said the operator has withdrawn from all shirt and perimeter advertising in football, and called for more action to be taken to build on the ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban that came into effect in August 2019.

Under the new regulations, gambling adverts are not permitted during sporting events that are broadcast before the 9pm watershed for a whistle-to-whistle period, beginning five minutes before the event starts and five minutes after it ends.

Alexander made the point that while this ban has been a success, consumers are still faced with gambling ads throughout the game as a result on both shirt and pitchside advertising boards.

He said: “What's the difference between a ban on ads during the game when you can see it on shirts and around the pitch? I think gaming companies' ads are too much in the face of the consumer, and shirt and pitch advertising is an area that needs considering.”

The BGC’s Simmonds also said: “With the whistle-to-whistle ban, we’ve seen an 85% decrease in the amount of advertising in all sport, not just football. You may argue that some of this has moved online, but here you can opt not to accept cookies and distance yourself. We may need to do more, and we are very open to do that.”

Simmonds also said that she will meet with the English Football Association this week to discuss the matter further, and also hopes to speak with the Premier League about its policies over sponsorship.

Meanwhile, the panel also took questions about affiliates, with the Committee raising concerns that such activity takes places outside of regulations put in place by the Gambling Commission. Several members of the Committee were worried about the impact of such referral services on the consumer.

Bengtsson, from William Hill, made the point that most of these affiliate websites serve as odds comparisons platforms that allow users to see where they would be able to get the best prices for their bets.

GVC’s Alexander said that while the operator does use affiliates, this is only a small part of the business, and it was much bigger five years ago, with all of its current partners subject to strict rules to ensure they are operating in line with UK regulations.

Alexander also called for affiliates to be licensed and abide by the same rules as operators, backing the Committee to look into regulation. Simmonds also said she was open to further regulation for gambling affiliates.

In terms of the importance of the gambling industry to the UK, Simmonds noted that the UK market currently employs 106,000 people and contributes £14bn to the UK economy each year. She also said the industry makes a £3.5bn annual contribution to the Treasury.

Simmonds said: “We are the major contributor for horseracing, at around £350m a year, and without our support, horse and greyhound racing would not survive in this country.”