Scott Longley – A short history of gambling shirt sponsorship in football (part 2)

Scott Longley

 Speaking to industry stakeholders, Scott Longley details the ‘high-water mark’ of betting shirt sponsorship in football. As leadership is pressured to deliver a better ROI on football marketing, what does the future hold for the sector’s relationship with the beautiful game…

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SBOBET has claims to being perhaps the most far-sighted sponsor to have ever appeared on the front of an English Premier League shirt. Eight years after it took over as the lead sponsor at West Ham United after its previous sponsor XL Holidays went bust, gambling companies made up 50 percent of all the top sponsors for the EPL and a majority of them are Asian-focused.

This season that percentage dropped slightly to 45 percent. Bournemouth remains with Mansion (or M88 as it says on the shirt); Burnley still has Dafabet; Crystal Palace has ManBetX having also had Mansion in 2016/17; Everton remains with Sportpesa; Huddersfield has OpeSports; Stoke City remains with bet365 (and now has the stadium name as well as the shirt); Swansea City has swapped BetEast in 16/17 for LeTou; Watford has moved from 138.com to retail financial trader FXpro; and West Ham still has Betway (despite recent publicity).

The clear implication of the names mentioned here is that despite what will now be a certain familiarity (certainly for long-standing sponsors such as Mansion and Dafabet), as none of these are front-line UK-facing brands.

“I think it’s right to say we were early to market if not first to market,” says Bill Mummery, executive direct at Celton Manx, the Isle of Man based subsidiary of SBOBET.

“WHU had just lost their shirt sponsor mid-season, we were about to go live under our IOM licence and it was a good opportunity for a big bang launch. What perhaps was misunderstood was that we weren’t looking to steal market share in UK but rather use the quality of the Premier League and its global television footprint to reach our more core markets.”

In other words, SBOBET had solved the dilemma of being unable to measure the CPAs associated with shirt sponsorships by ignoring the issue altogether and very much looking at the bigger (TV) picture. Harry Lang, the founder of brand-building and integrated marketing consultancy Brand Architects who is currently working with Genting to support their casino and sports betting brands says the Asian bookies and the global EPL audience was a match made in heaven.

“In China, it’s incredibly hard to get a gaming brand known, and tens of millions tune in and bet on the football every week so the Asian handicap books have a very different set of sums to consider when compared to a UK sportsbook or casino,” he says.

“The EPL was hugely popular in the far east, the Asian football betting market is massive and someone cleverly worked out that sponsorship was a way to get brands in front of eyeballs every week. When the average bet size is what it is in Asia, the telephone numbers asked by EPL clubs to whack a logo on a shirt start to look quite affordable.”

After the gold rush

Whether the past two seasons end up being a high-water mark for gambling shirt sponsorships and the English Premier League is debatable. As can be judged from the new names that have appeared on the front of some shirts this season, there would appear to be no end of appetite.

The financial side would appear to still work for both sides although as Lee Richardson, founder and chief executive at Gaming Economics. “I think the body knowledge of marketing-investment returns from shirt-sponsorship undertaken by betting brands is now well-established, and lessons have definitely been learned, sometimes the hard way,” he says.

Lang is more sceptical. “I suppose there is a cliche associated with it but I’d bet a decent amount that for every one deal that would be considered a commercial success for the operator there are at least three that aren’t,” he says.

Mummery believes there are other pressures which are telling, particularly in terms of the tax and regulatory burdens in the UK. “If there are two certainties for our industry over the next decade these costs will only increase, operating margins are not growing in line with costs and so there will come a point where marketing including affiliates will have to be constrained,” he says.

“My sense is that we may well see a reduction in gross spend. EPL sponsorship is a significant cost and has to be done in a committed manner to be successful.”

As with the fracturing of the TV audience for football, the ways to market for gambling operator are varied. As Harry Lang concludes, “when a CEO asks them what ROI (the marketing team are) getting at the end of each year I’d reckon most of them are quite glad they put their £5m into PPC, TV and affiliates rather than the front of Hal Robson-Kanu’s shirt.”

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The Betting industry’s relationship with Football and its wider stakeholders will be discussed at the ‘Betting on Football 2018’ (#bofcon2018 – 20-23 March, Stamford Bridge, London) conference. Click on the below banner for more information…

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