Aston Villa

Aston Villa confirms BK8 deal will go ahead despite fan backlash

Aston Villa’s sponsorship agreement with BK8 will go ahead, according to club supporters’ organisations, having been hit with criticism from fans for the company’s advertising history.

Reports last month indicated that the BK8 branding would likely feature on the front of the Premier League side’s match shirts, as a replacement for outgoing three-year partner Cazoo.

BK8 has a history of partnering with Premier League teams, having signed agreements with Crystal Palace, Burnley and Huddersfield, but its deal with Norwich City was abandoned three days in due to controversy around its marketing. 

Norwich supporters were particularly concerned about a series of adverts featuring ‘sexually provocative’ images of women, and this advertising history has again been cited by Villa 

Now, in an update via Twitter – which has been reshared by the Villa Belles women’s team – the Villa Trust revealed Aston Villa Fans Consultation Group (FCG) confirmed that it had been in discussions with club management and on 24 January. 

“The FCG’s understanding is that the reports are correct, and BK8 will be the new front of shirt sponsors for the next three seasons,” the group’s statement read.

“While some fans will be disappointed after Villa’s current front-of-shirt sponsor moved away from gambling companies, the commercial reality is that to teams outside the top six, such sponsors offer clubs twice as much financially as non-gambling companies.”

The FCG also confirmed that Aston Villa had not responded to media queries at the time of The Telegraph’s initial reporting of the story due to ‘contractual obligations’ and being in the middle of its outgoing deal with Cazoo.

The statement showcases a number of recent trends, as the relationship between betting and sports falls under the spotlight with the Gambling Act review White Paper judgemental apparently due within the next month. 

George Harborne, SBC Sponsorship Director, offered his insights on developments: “The political backdrop against which this agreement has been announced means that it would always have faced scrutiny, but that isn’t something new for deals of this type in the UK. 

“The choice of partner has amplified that scrutiny given the reasons for a previous agreement with the brand being terminated by a different club. 

“With 2022 being arguably one of the greatest years for the development and growth of women’s sport in the UK, agreeing a deal with a brand so publicly linked with ‘sexually provocative’ marketing tactics was never going to go unnoticed, particularly when that precedent had been set to terminate an agreement with the same brand by Norwich City.” 

Reform advocates have long called for such sponsorship arrangements to be banned, with Big Step Founder James Grimes describing the Villa-BK8 deal as ‘tone deaf’ in the face of ‘inevitable government action of gambling ads and against a backdrop of mounting fan pressure’.

It is true that there has been some fan discontent with betting sponsorships across top-flight football, with Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow himself saying in the past that the club would put betting sponsors to one side.

Across the sport, the response of some Everton supporters to the club’s deal with Stake was also notable, whilst further down the pyramid teams such as Bolton Wanderers and Forest Green Rovers have actively turned away from betting activity.

Harborne continued: “Villa have also failed to manage fans expectations, having previously outlined that they were moving away from betting partners as main sponsors of the club. 

“This has been cited repeatedly by fan groups in response to the BK8 story, with supporters dismayed that the club have seemingly done a u-turn on a commitment to no longer carry betting sponsorship on the front of the shirt.” 

However, the FCG’s statement did also acknowledge the financial role such sponsorships play for clubs outside the biggest earners, something which stakeholders such as EFL Chairman Rick Parry have often cited as key to lower league teams’ income.

“The Aston Villa Fans Consultation Group has itself acknowledged in its statement that the reported BK8 deal could be worth as much as double the existing agreement with Cazoo, or another non-betting brand,” Harborne concluded.

“BK8 has also made strides to right its previous wrongs highlighted by securing England legends Faye White and Kelly Smith as ambassadors over the last two years, and also supporting other women’s football initiatives through their other existing club partnerships. 

“I would envisage that should the partnership with Aston Villa proceed, then there will again be a strong commitment within that agreement for BK8 to support community initiatives and in particular those relating to women’s sport.” 

As it stands, rumours over the past year have suggested that a full force ban on shirt sponsorships cannot be guaranteed as a Gambling Act review outcome, with some reports suggesting clubs will phase out such partnerships over the years.

With policymakers’ decisions on the future of the industry’s association with football apparently due to come into the limelight soon, the long-term viability of partnerships such as Villa and BK8 will also be confirmed.

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