EFL agrees new sponsorship deal – but has this come at the worst possible time?

If you weren’t aware, the long-standing relationship between football and the gambling industry has come under intense scrutiny recently.

  • The English Football League have agreed a five-year sponsorship deal with Sky Bet.
  • Despite the new deal, it’s argued it has come at the wrong time, with an already tense relationship between football and gambling,
  • The news also comes as Hearts and Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty urged football bosses to review its relationship with sports betting, after developing a chronic gambling addiction during his career.

It was just last week that Hearts and Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty urged football bosses to review its relationship with sports betting, after claiming to have developed a chronic gambling addiction during his career. We’ve also seen ministers in Belgium set a new regulatory standard for sports clubs to follow in relation to advertising and sponsorship, while the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is also set to clamp down on adverts during live events.

With these points in mind, the news that the EFL had agreed a new title sponsorship deal with Sky Bet has come at the worst possible time. Does English football really have a gambling problem, however, and if so is this type of agreement a symptom of this?

What are the terms of the deal and how have the EFL responded?

The EFL has announced a five-year agreement with Sky Bet, and one that is scheduled to run from 2019 to 2024. By the end of this term, betting company’s sponsorship of the English Football League will have continued uninterrupted for 11 years, with the brand having established itself as a familiar, household name during this time.

While the deal was announced triumphantly, EFL has faced a minor backlash given the increasingly strained relationship between sport and the gambling industry. This has forced the organisation to reassert its commitment to responsible gambling, while senior figures have also signed an “enhanced Memorandum of Understanding designed to help its customers stay in control and gamble safely.”

The EFL has also developed the slogan ‘When the fun stops. Stop’ as part of its wider messaging to fans, while ensuring that all players wear sleeve patches promoting responsible gambling during matches.

A potential conflict of interests – Could this type of deal come under threat in the future?

Of course, there are some that will point to an obvious conflict of interests between the EFL’s responsible gambling measures and the signing of a long-term, lucrative sponsorship deal with one of the UK’s best-known operators. After all, the EFL and its clubs generate huge revenues on the back of such deals, meaning that they profit directly from online gambling. Even allowing for the fact that the UK’s sports betting market is the best regulated in the world, this still creates a juxtaposition that’s hard to ignore.

There is also reason to believe that this type of agreement could also come under threat in the future. If the UKGC was to follow the example of Belgium (which it has already done in part by proposing more stringent advertising regulations), it may also look to restrict sports sponsorship deals relating to leagues, equipment and individual teams. It also includes new casino deals online. This would certainly put organisations like the EFL in a difficult position, as they look to balance their social and regulatory responsibilities with maintaining a lucrative sponsor.

The last word

Such measures are a long way off, which means that the EFL can continue to benefit from sports betting sponsorship while also attempting to position itself as an ambassador for responsible gambling.

Groups like the EFL and leading sports teams will definitely need to consider their marketing approach in the years ahead, in order to ensure that they do not send mixed messages to fans. They’ll also come under increased pressure from regulators, particularly with the UKGC looking to prioritise the protection of consumers during the next five years.