Football, which is arguably the ‘biggest sport in the world’, captures the attention of supporters and professional players across the globe. Fans who crave the sport often become more immersed via the route of betting and gambling.
The ever-changing industry is inevitably taking advantage of this spike in activity but with new, stricter regulations being fixed in place, what does this mean for football and for footballers?
Speaking at SBC Digital Summit CIS on a panel entitled ‘Betting and Sports – More than just a companion?’, retired Barcelona midfielder Gaizka Mendieta pointed out that the ability to bet on football matches is now in the ‘palm of our hands’ and much more accessible than it was over two decades ago during his playing career.
He believed that the betting industry is at its ‘peak’, hence there is more of a need now more than ever to educate customers and participants on how to gamble in a controlled manner.
“There are a lot more betting companies and betting itself is a lot more popular activity than it was in my day,” he explained. “In Spain it has changed massively, there was only one company and type of betting, whereas now it’s global. Of course, that is thanks to technology and mobile phone applications.
“There’s now a sense of responsibility from official bodies and organisations to make it responsible for those who have access to these platforms. I know for sure because I’ve worked with different organisations that they’re trying to combine those two things.”
Earlier this week, Spanish clubs were ordered to conclude contracts with betting operators by the end of the current campaign, as they will be prohibited from partnering with gambling firms from the 2021/22 season. Mendieta, who previously played in the top flight, admitted that he hoped the division could come to an agreement.
“In particular, the Premier League and La Liga are working on trying to find a middle point where they’ll be allowed to do so and La Liga is now in talks with the government. In La Liga, I think about all but four or five clubs all have some sort of partnership with betting related companies. In the Premier League, I think it’s less because it allows clubs to have them.
“It does a lot of good for sports. I think betting companies want to invest and support different organisations at different levels. They’re involved in big tournaments around the world, supporting not only big clubs and federations but also lower leagues that are not as famous in the world. But thanks to these revenues and income, they can support grassroots, academies, etc. It’s beyond what most people do actually see in this relationship.”
Revaz Arveladze, former Head of the UEFA Committee, concurred that ‘it depends what kind of relationship it is’ between the two parties and where the income is utilised. For instance, income garnered from betting partnerships could contribute towards purchasing new players which then allows teams to progress in competitions, creating a domino effect.
Moreover, in less wealthy countries, smaller clubs are heavily reliant on sponsorship deals with betting companies. The former Bundesliga star urged officials to consider their unique circumstances and what the revenue means to smaller clubs, taking each country on a ‘case-by-case’ basis.
“Our industry and the betting industry really need each other and I don’t think that is questionable,” he reaffirmed. “Betting companies are reaching out to invest money in football and it is also the best way to advertise themselves, how good they are and how big they are and how many opportunities they have to do charity or sponsoring.
“We’re having a difficult time in the world. A lot of clubs and associations have no income because people aren’t at the games so there’s no ticketing money and no merchandising money within the stadiums so in this situation, every dollar and euro is important for sports and especially football.
“The poor clubs and countries are not so rich like the top 10 or top eight and they need those companies and partners very much as sponsors. From my perspective, this all has to be fair; fair for European football and for smaller clubs or bigger clubs.”
However, he conceded that he appreciated the quandary at hand. Arveladze asserted that there must be a ‘transparent and fair’ agreement between betting operators and football clubs, finding a balance between generating much-needed revenue and taking care of the wellbeing of its players.
“On the other side, we have a fair game situation and a need to protect the players, the staff, employers and the referees working within the clubs and associations. Of course, clubs have to put in the contracts that players are not allowed to gamble but on the other hand, we need the betting companies because they are rich enough to sign contracts and partnerships.”
Lasha Machavariani, CEO and Founder of Sports Media Holding and panel host. cited the 2018 World Cup as an example of governing bodies and major tournaments aligning themselves with betting companies in order to reap the rewards of additional revenue.
“The big case is of the World Cup in 2018 when Russia hosted the major football environment. Betting wasn’t regulated in Russia before the plans regarding the tournament but they decided when it was organised to regulate betting. So we had the largest sports event taking place in the country in parallel to betting being regulated in the country to help different stakeholders to generate extra revenue.”