Sky Bet’s Steve Birch ‘proud’ of RG focus in EFL partnership

Sky Betting and Gaming’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) doubled down on the responsible and safer gambling commitments of the firm’s partnership with the EFL this week, with the 2023/24 season well underway.

SBC News Sky Bet’s Steve Birch ‘proud’ of RG focus in EFL partnership
Steve Birch of Sky Bet

Steve Birch, who has held the CCO role at the Flutter Entertainment betting brand since June 2022, referenced the government White Paper as he reflected on Sky Bet’s long running sponsorship of the second, third and fourth tiers of English football.

“It’s a partnership that is close to our hearts at Sky Bet and one of the longest running and most successful in professional sport,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

“I’m particularly proud that the emphasis both ourselves and the EFL put on social responsibility was held up by the Government in its White Paper earlier this year as an example for others to learn from when looking at sports sponsorship.”

Renewed in June this year, the EFL deal is one of Sky Bet’s flagship commercial arrangements and grants the firm extensive visibility across the English football landscape.

However, the partnership – along with the general relationship between betting and sports, particular football, in the UK – has come under increasing scrutiny over the past three years, amidst the Gambling Act review which culminated in April’s White Paper.

Notably, EFL Chairman Rick Parry was encouraged by the parliamentary group Peers for Gambling Reform to voluntarily end its arrangement with Sky Bet. 

Meanwhile, the Premier League made the decision ahead of the White Paper publication to begin phasing out front-of-shirt sponsorships from the 2026/27 season onwards, although allowing continuation of shirt sponsorship deals.

In the face of this criticism, the EFL opted to renew the deal – but the duo have added a number of responsible gambling caveats to the terms of their ongoing cooperation.

Birch explained: “Those who were lucky enough to witness the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final between Luton and Coventry would have seen perimeter advertising hoardings highlighting that more than one million people have now signed up to our safer gambling tools at Sky Bet – enough to fill 11 Wembleys.

“By this, we mean a customer who is using ‘tools’ such as a deposit limit or a loss limit, a customer who takes the occasional ‘time out’ or uses our profit and loss tool to check their spend, their balance and hopefully – from their point of view at least! – their ‘wins’.

“The tools we offer are intended to give customers extra control and support when playing with us. Just like screentime on your mobile or an overdraft limit, they are designed so that people placing a bet on sportsbooks or chancing their arm on the slots can help to regulate their play.”

Flutter has similarly placed responsible gambling as a focal point of its business. The FTSE100 company – owner of Paddy Power, Betfair and The Stars Group (TSG) – aims to have 75% of its customers using safer gambling tools by 2030.

Birch explained that, in line with its parent company’s objectives, the brand is edging towards this target with the current rate standing at 50% – something he argued is indicative of the dedication its Leeds-headquartered team has towards RG policies.

Closing his piece, Birch provided some context into why he believes the EFL opted to renew its Sky Bet partnership despite the then and ongoing criticism of betting’s relationship with football.

“We know that for the vast majority going to watch their favourite EFL team – or just enjoying a game on the TV – a flutter on the football is harmless fun,” he said.

“But we’re absolutely committed to making sure we do all we can to protect those who may be at risk of harm. The EFL shares this belief and it’s why safer gambling is very much front and centre of our partnership as we begin a new season together.”

The Gambling Act review White Paper had many proposals for changes to British gambling regulation, but marketing and advertising was largely left to the side, with the exception of a sports sponsorship Code of Conduct.

Consultations between the UKGC and DCMS with a range of stakeholders are now underway. However, partnerships such as Sky Bet’s EFL deal still go against the desire expressed by many reform advocates for a complete ban on betting sponsorships in sports.

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