Bolton Wanderers severe betting ties as industry reacts to sponsor ban

Following reports that the DCMS is moving to ban sponsorship arrangements between betting companies and Premier League football clubs, Bolton Wanderers has moved to sever its ties to the industry.

In place of its links with the betting and gaming industry, Bolton will instead seek to form partnerships with charities and organisations specialising in betting addiction treatment.

Although making its ‘position regarding betting provision and betting sponsorship’ clear, the English Football League (EFL ) League One team has added that it will remain ‘respectful of the EFL’s commercial partnerships and that of other clubs’.

“We recognise that some people do want to bet and also that the league has a commercial partnership with a gambling company in place – and we are respectful of this,” said Neil Hart, Bolton Wanderers CEO.

“However, we will not take part in any activity to promote gambling outside the existing EFL contractual requirements. This means that we will not provide match day betting kiosks or enter into any new agreements with gambling companies.”

Bolton Wanderers prior engagement with the betting and gaming industry has seen the Greater Manchester club name Betfred as an official front-of-shirt sponsor for the EFL Championship 2017/18 season, whilst also becoming the first Premier League team – along with Wigan Athletic – to partner with 188Bet.

Meanwhile, a deal signed between William Hill and BD Stadia (BD Sport Group) in 2017 saw Bolton’s stadium – then branded as the Macron Stadium – enter the bookmaker’s campaign portfolio, along with five other clubs. 

Bolton Wanderers Chairman Sharon Brittan, commented: “Problem gambling ruins lives and we’ve taken this stance to show our support for those who are suffering from a betting addiction.

Brittan added: “We as an industry must do more and through our work with Bolton Wanderers in the Community, Bolton Wanderers Football Club will support outreach programmes for those who experience gambling problems.”

Reported yesterday, the sports betting sponsorship ban forms part of the UK government’s forthcoming review of the 2005 Gambling Act, with regulations regarding pitch side and television advertising also under consideration.

The ban has been in the political pipeline for some time, having been touted as ‘the most likely outcome’ of the review earlier this year as well as gaining the support of PM Boris Johnson and his cabinet, whilst Premier League clubs have been preparing for the development since at least March.

However, although Bolton has made the decision to sever its links to the sector, it is understood that the ban will focus primarily on Premier League clubs, with EFL teams less impacted due to the significant financial impact it would have. 

Commenting on the ban, Imogen Moss, a Gambling Industry and Regulatory Expert from solicitors Poppleston Allen, said: “Given the DCMS have been clear that the review’s purpose is to overhaul regulations to ensure they’re fit for the digital age, banning a traditional form of advertising like shirt sponsorship might not be where marketing reform ends. 

“Betting brands should now also consider how they market to a football audience via digital means too, with the sweeping changes in Spain – spanning social media and television advertising among other channels – showing the extent of how far governments and regulators can go.”

For Moss, the ban on sports betting sponsors could have an ‘unintended consequence’, as clubs look for alternative partners to replace the revenue source the gaming industry provided and ‘shore up pandemic-stricken finances’. Two possible alternatives, she argued, are the financial trading space and the emerging and expanding cryptocurrency sector.

“These products can carry similar risk levels to gambling, particularly for a new audience and in some cases aren’t as well regulated as gambling is in the UK,” Moss continued. “As such, their marketing activity could also be subject to similar levels of scrutiny and regulation in future.”

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