Premier League sponsorships: Can 'provocative action’ be taken on responsible partnerships?

Premier League sponsorships: Can ‘proactive action’ be taken on responsible partnerships?

The Premier League’s decision to phase out gambling shirt sponsorships by the end of the 2025/26 season proved to be a significant moment for the sports’ storied history with betting partners. However, this has not deterred bookmakers from seeking to capitalise on the maximum visibility of the league while the opportunity remains.

With the new season just a few weeks away, seven of the top-flight’s clubs maintain front-of shirt deals – Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brentford, Burnley, Fulham, Everton and West Ham – whilst Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace have opted for sleeve sponsorships, which will continue to be permitted after the 2025/26 season cut-off point.

The continuation of these agreements has incurred a range of responses. This has included condemnation from some supporters groups and responsible gambling charities, to the acknowledgement from industry stakeholders of the marketing power the league holds, with respect to social responsibility requirements. 

George Harborne, SBC’s Sponsorship Director, reflected on developments: “With the Premier League delivering some of the largest sports viewing audiences globally it is no surprise that an industry so closely linked with live sport would pursue sponsorship opportunities in the game. 

“Gambling operators will always seek to align themselves with live action as that is where their product exists and what their customers consume, so it should be no surprise that operators have continued to announce new front of shirt partnerships in the Premier League ahead of the 2023/24 season.”

For the operator partners of Premier League clubs, the reason for the continuation of these partnerships is ‘because it works’ – this was how SBOTOP’s BIll Mummery put it to SBC the other week, commenting on the firm’s deal with newly promoted Fulham FC.

Football sponsorships form one part of a wider ‘marketing mix’ Mummery outlined, adding that these relationships will continue – in the form of sleeve sponsorships from 2026/27 onwards – with a commitment to responsibility.

Reflecting on SBOTOP’s approach, he remarked: “It’s worth noting that we have never used our brand on any Junior Team playing iit nor Junior Replica kit and have always worked with clubs to act responsibly and in a sustainable manner.” 

Offering a safer gambling and problem gambling prevention perspective on the issue, Ben McGregor, Director of Sports Partnerships at harm minimisation consultancy EPIC Risk Management, noted that the Premier League has significant marketing value to operators.

“We acknowledge and respect the many viewpoints on the issue of change of regulation surrounding gambling operator sponsorship on football shirts,” he said.

“It is often the financial health, marketing activity and activation opportunities that accompany an organisation’s status as principal shirt sponsor that drive the biggest engagement with supporters.”

This is not to say, however, that other stakeholders in the UK research, education and treatment (RET) and charity sectors have been unphased by the continuation of betting partnerships in football.

GambleAware, arguably the most visible British gambling treatment organisation, has harshly criticised new sponsorships. The charity has called for a complete ban on these deals, including front-of-shirt, sleeve and stadium branding arrangements.

Meanwhile, football fan representatives have also expressed displeasure – the Chelsea FC Supporters Trust and Aston Villa Supporters Trust were both critical of the whiteclubs respective deals with and BK8, the former being abandoned as a result.

In EPIC’s view, clubs with continuing betting partnerships should focus on ensuring that responsible practices are factored in, with a double objective of protecting both football fans and the athletes involved in the sport.

McGregor elaborated: “We believe that responsible decision making – placing human health at the centre of partner engagement – is essential throughout the sports sponsorship process. This includes taking proactive action to educate on the risks of gambling-related harm.

“This was one of the recommendations we released in our Gambling Harm Prevention in Sport Review white paper in February, informed by input from our Pro Sport Advisory Board. 

“Both we and the experts that make up the board share the belief that any sporting organisation that enters into a new commercial partnership with a gambling operator should embed mandatory gambling harm education programmes into their contract to help inform and safeguard the individuals within their organisation.”

As Harborne noted, many UK-facing brands are integrating gambling harm programmes into their sponsorships, targeting local communities. SBC’s Sponsorship Director noted Kindred as a ‘successful early champion’ of such programmes. SBC News Premier League sponsorships: Can 'proactive action’ be taken on responsible partnerships?

The Swedish company was able to expand on this further to SBC last month, specifically discussing the deal between its Unibet sportsbook brand and Scottish top-flight side Rangers FC

“Sport sponsors have a unique link to communities, places and people – presenting a huge opportunity to make a difference,” Jamie Moniz, Kindred’s UK Marketing Manager, remarked.

“At Kindred, we took the decision a few years ago to launch a new model of football club sponsorship – one that means investing in the local community, as well as the club. And we know that, by leveraging our assets for good, we can continue to promote healthier, safer gambling to fans and beyond.”

Having praised Kindred’s initiatives, Harborne added that it would be a ‘positive step to see these types of activations become mandatory as part of agreements’, whilst McGregor also offered some insight into the responsibility provisions clubs could include in betting deals.

He explained: “This can involve a mixture of lived experience delivery to players, staff and supporters, as well as clear marketing messaging across other club platforms to help raise awareness of the effect that gambling-related harm can have on individuals and those close to them.”

However, Harborne did note one notable catch 22 affecting how these practices could be implemented into the Premier League, that being a ‘disconnect’ between the domestic and international audiences different firms target.

The Premier League’s status as a ‘unique case in world football’ means some brands may partner with an English club – but this does not mean that the English consumer takes front-and-centre in their minds.

Broadcasting agreements with prominent media outlets take the league ‘to every corner of the globe’, bolstered by the fact that unlike other major European divisions, the English top-flight uses just one broadcast feed to connect with a worldwide audience.

“Whilst leagues such as La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and now Ligue 1 deploy regional feeds allowing for geo-specific advertising, this technology is not in use in England,” Harborne continued.

“A shirt sponsorship deal with accompanying pitchside advertising assets in England is seen around the world, whereas these pitchside advertising assets in other leagues are only seen in specific territories. This makes the Premier League a one stop shop for global exposure for brands, and in the most watched football league in the world.”

The Premier League may be England’s top-flight, but it has a significant global reach, drawing in viewers from all over the world. As such, it is not ‘unreasonable to assume that 50% of the betting shirt agreements for the 2023/24 season are targeting an overseas market, with the UK as a ‘by-product’.

“If the brands are focusing on overseas markets then should they invest in gambling harm programmes in the UK, if they are not targeting this audience?” Harborne concluded.

“Do we have to take it that brands are naturally targeting the UK by existing in the UK? Are some brands only seeking UKGC licences to access advertising opportunities in the UK? 

“These questions have consequences in how we make greater social responsibility considerations actionable and community driven, and force us to reassess the balance between the valuations in the sponsorship fees secured and the activations delivered with those fees to educate and safeguard fans and the wider community from gambling harm.”

The wheels are now set in motion for the Premier League to phase out front-of-shirt sponsorships, but the debate around the continuation of such partnerships continues. 

What is clear is that operators are emphasising safer gambling as part of these deals, but how this strategy is implemented could be the final say in whether betting’s commercial relationship with football is ultimately given the red card. 

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