Willkommen… Betting’s football shirt solace in Germany

Scott Longley

In the realm of sports sponsorship, at least, the online gambling sector is finding a more relaxed attitude to shirt sponsorship in Germany than it is in the increasingly riven UK

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Away from the numerous cry havocs and blasts of war echoing in our ears as the debate in the UK around gambling reaches yet another pitch it is perhaps refreshing to realise the level of debate elsewhere in Europe would appear to be conducted in a far more measured way.

The British Labour Party recently announced it would seek to ban the sponsorship of sports teams by gambling companies, a move which would have a profound impact on English football.

But such measures are unlikely to be aped in other European football markets. Specifically, while the online gambling industry has a lengthy list of complaints and charges it can bring against the German authorities with regard to the shambles that is official policy of licensing, it can at least be reassured that the marketing of betting products doesn’t appear to illicit the same degree of angst as it does in the UK.

Such at least is the view of Matthias Spitz, gaming law specialist at the Heidelberg-based law firm Melchers. “High-profile sponsorships of sports teams is not an issue in the political discussion on gambling regulation in Germany,” he says.

“Most of the Bundesliga teams have sponsorship contracts with one of the major betting companies. In principle, sports betting is regulated at state level and not at federal level. Some state regulators, such as the regulators of Baden-Wuerttemberg, have tried to prevent high-level sponsorships in the past, however, it is not a regulatory issue at the moment.”

Admittedly, the issue of gambling sponsorships in Germany might not be quite so visible as it is in the UK. While the English Premier League sees nine teams sporting gambling companies as their main sponsors (with a further three in the Scottish Premier League), the Bundesliga has only one – Hertha Berlin with Bet-at-home.

It is also evident that the same situation with regard to operators leveraging the global appeal of the English Premier League to reach an audience far outside the boundaries of the UK. Not for German football such names as Fun88, 12Bet or Dafabet and with it the debate about excessive levels of gambling marketing.

Spitz points out that the major focus for German policymakers – aside from fumbling the ball on regulation – has since been on integrity issues. This dates back to the Hoyzer scandal in 2004 when it emerged that the referee Robert Hoyzer conspired to fix a match between SC Paderborn and Hamburg SV in the German FA Cup.

It has meant that the subsequent focus of policymakers has much more been on the mechanics of in-play rather than the marketing efforts. But as Spitz points out, the efforts to limit in-play betting have since come to be seen as a protectionist measure in favour of the state-operated Oddset rather than truly integrity inspired.

“Many experts at the time believed that sports integrity was just a false pretence to protect the state-operated sportsbook Oddset which did not offer any in-play betting,” he says.

Despite the protectionist tendencies, it doesn’t stretch to the properly commercial realm where, Spitz says, any sports-betting operator that owns a licence or has applied for a licence can enter into sponsorship agreements.

Moreover, it is the commercial element that counts. What is accepted in Germany – and has been somewhat overshadowed in the UK – is the degree to which the money received from the sponsorship by gambling companies contributes to the economic fabric of sport.

Spitz points out that this now constitutes a substantial sum. “The legal struggle is unlikely to affect sponsorships which contributes significant amounts of funds to the professional sports teams,” he says.

The online gambling industry can also be thankful that there is unlikely any across-border leakage from the venomous UK debate into the German bloodstream. The German regulators would appear to be far too insular for that.

“Many gambling regulators in Germany do not pay any attention to debates in other countries,” says Spitz. “As a consequence, state gambling regulators often do not see the bigger picture.

“A further consequence is that a ban in the UK is unlikely to have any impact on the ongoing political and legal discussion on sports-betting regulation between politicians, campaigners and the sports teams in Germany.”

Of course, to an extent the gambling industry has bigger fish to fry in Germany as the tortured regulatory progress attests. “The German regulation of sports betting under the Interstate Treaty on Gambling is plagued by more fundamental problems and, hence, the focus is not on the high-profile sponsorships,” says Spitz.

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Shirt sponsorship is one of the key areas of discussion at next year’s Betting on Football Conference #bofcon2018 – 20-23 March 2018 – Click here for more information

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