As we try to read the course and consequences of admitting legalized bookmakers as bona fide sports sponsors, it occurred that we might look to England, where legal gambling and sports are as endemic as soft drinks and sports are here.
During the past decade or so, the ease of betting from mobile phones, combined with a huge infusion of sponsorship and TV dollars, especially from Asian bookmakers, have made oddsmakers one of the largest commercial patrons of British soccer. Nine of 20 EPL teams have their shirts sponsored by bookmakers, along with 17 of 24 teams in the EFL Championship, the next league down. Almost 20 percent of the ads shown on England’s ITV during the most recent World Cup were for bookmakers — the largest single category.
It’s pervasive enough to have become (pardon) a political football. Accordingly, the meteoric rise of in-game betting and TV ads supporting them caused an association of bookmakers to voluntarily ban TV advertising before 9 p.m. The group behind this self-regulation includes names already familiar: William Hill, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, which acquired FanDuel last year.
Recalling that the fantasy sites bought nearly every domestic sports marketing asset available three autumns ago, won’t the same thing happen here with legal gambling?
Italy recently banned all gambling advertising. Omnipresent commercialism often catalyzes regulation. So, is the U.K.’s “political football” a parable for the U.S.?
“The U.K. is decades ahead of the U.S., in terms of gambling, so it would be wise as our gambling industry grows to look there,” said Tom Fox, president of the MLS San Jose Earthquakes. As CEO of Aston Villa, Fox got Dafabet off their jerseys, replacing it with Intuit/QuickBooks.
As you’d expect, minting new fans is the priority at MLS. Simply put: “No matter whose data you look at, people that wager watch more,” said Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures. “It’s a fan development tool, and we’ll have the appropriate measures in place to manage it.”
The U.K.’s Labour Party has proposed banning football shirt sponsorships from oddsmakers. In light of Brexit, “Labour’s not going to win any elections on this,” said Carl Woodman, managing director, U.K., for Lagardère Sports. “In-game betting really grew and lit a fire and now it has peaked public attention.”
Will the NBA consider this when it comes to renewing its “experiment” with jersey ads? Bookmakers are surely waiting with open checkbooks.
“Legal gambling’s such a golden egg for taxes, advertising and sponsorships,” said Fred Popp, an American ex-pat who’s now CEO of Teamup Consulting in the U.K. “My view is it will become a gigantic U.S. industry before something tips over and it becomes a problem. But it bears watching.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.