The U.K. appears on the verge of banning gambling companies from advertising on the front of English Premier League jerseys, a decision that could dramatically re-shift the market for one of the biggest marketing assets available to teams.
Betting partners have been a prominent piece of the U.K. soccer advertising landscape since a 2005 law loosened restrictions on gambling companies. This season, nine Premier League teams have a gambling logo on the front of their jersey, deals that are worth a combined $79.22 million (£57.64 million), according to analytics and consulting firm GlobalData.
A government review of that 2005 Gambling Act, spurred by concerns over addiction, mental health and financial protection, has put that lucrative revenue stream in doubt. Multiple reports say the review, which began in December 2020, is likely to suggest a ban on Premier League jerseys featuring betting company logos. Should the proposal be approved by Parliament, it won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.
The review could also recommend changes to in-stadium and broadcast advertising. “No decisions have been taken and it is wrong for anybody to be suggesting otherwise,” a representative for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is conducting the review. “We will set our findings and proposals in due course.”
U.K. restrictions would follow ones already in place in both Italy and Spain. That trend of contraction comes as the U.S. marketing engine rushes in the other direction. This year, for the first time, sportsbooks have been allowed to advertise on television during NFL games. As more states legalize the practice, operators are getting closer to shifting their massive marketing budgets away from pricey local campaigns in favor of national ones. National Hockey League owners recently approved the addition of jersey patches for the 2022-23 season, with betting operators allowed to buy that space. On Friday, the Washington Capitals announced their home uniforms will carry a Caesars Sportsbook patch beginning next fall, thanks to a deal worth $6 million per year, according to sources.
In the U.K., betting operators first appeared on jerseys in the 2002-03 season when Fulham made the online gambling company Betfair its sponsor. In 2006-07, the number of sportsbooks on Premier League shirts jumped up to four. That total grew steadily until 2016, when half of the 20 clubs sported betting company logos on their jerseys.
None of the six most valuable clubs has ever had a sports gambling operator appear on its shirts, while others have simply cycled through them. For instance, Wigan Athletic's players wore 188BET on their chests for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, and then showcased the international gaming brand 12BET for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, for a net loss of 176 bets.
Many of these companies don’t even fully operate in the U.K.—they’re seeking exposure in other places, where Premier League games are broadcast—and their advertising practices have irked some fans. Earlier this year Norwich City ended a partnership with BK8 after just five days because of outcry from fans.
A ban on those deals would especially affect revenue for mid- and lower-tier teams, according to Liam Fox, an analyst at GlobalData.
“Clubs at this level are unable to attract the same high-value, blue chip sponsors that teams at the summit of the table can,” Fox said. “However, for betting operators, the forefront of their sponsorship considerations is brand exposure. These clubs still appear just as regularly on broadcast feeds as the bigger clubs, thus act as an effective mechanism to increase sports betting revenues from its captive fan base, at a far lower cost.”
(The story was updated to include information about the Washington Capitals' new uniform sponsor, to correct the number of sportsbooks on EPL jerseys in 2006-07 and to add a comment from the DCMS.)