Football and sports gambling go together like macaroni and cheese. Not only is football the most popular sport in the world, but the larger demographic likes to have a flutter or ten. It is a great competition, with the sports book being the lifeblood of most bookmakers and any casinos which hold UKGC licence, both online and in the good old-fashioned brick and mortar establishments.
The most popular football league in the world – in terms of a global audience – is the English Premier League, and prior to 2009/10, surveys showed that it was the Asian market that was superintend for this popularity, with 40% of the audience coming from that very continent. Gambling now accounts for over 40% of the income from perimeter sales in the Football League, and almost half of the shirt sponsorships in the Premier league, deals alone accounting for close to £50m invested per season.
With such a quintessential market, and a scuffle penny-pinching economy, Asian gambling companies with legal licensing invaded the Premier League clubs and the clubs bagged every penny. Back in 2009, 188BET – who secured its base license from the Isle of Man – became the first gambling company to have shirt sponsorship deals with two clubs in one season, after they paid £650,000 per annum for a deal with Wigan Athletic and £750,000 per annum for a deal with Bolton Wanderers.
This relationship has drawn notable attention from those in power, with both The Premier League and The FA deciding that their rectitude can be questioned if they took the gambling industry’s largesse. Most recently, The Labour party has pledged to outlaw gambling advertising in football.
So what makes the Premier League so popular?
The Premier League encompasses more foreign players than any other league in the world. In a survey conducted by comparetheleagues.com for the 2011/12 season, the Premier League’s teams contained 62.2% of foreigners with the Portuguese league a distant second with 55%. Of that 62.2% there were 71 diverse nations meaning that not only do we now know why the English national football team never wins anything, but also why it brings in so many viewers from around the world.
The smart Premier League teams also cottoned on to golden chance in the Asian market as they started to buy more and more Asian born players. Suddenly, ability came secondary to profitability and as more players that are Asian were signed, more Asian fans tuned in to watch their heroes warming their bums on the bench.
The introduction of The Gambling Act in 2005 gave these entities all the traction that was unavailable to them earlier. This has to gargantuan investments in promotional activities for the TV resulting in credibility for these companies. Since then, sponsoring EPL teams transitioned into a trend in the sport-betting industry. Today, betting is the fifth biggest investment category in the Premier League after sporting goods, financial services, airlines and automotive.
Yet, despite having a significant number of logo representations on Premier shirts, these companies avoid sponsoring the premier teams on the league table. The top-level teams of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and the Manchester Twins has the liberty to negotiate contracts worth upwards of £20m a year while clubs such as Bournemouth and Watford are available to sponsor for as low as £1m a year. Clubs like West Ham, West Brom, Stoke, Sunderland, Swansea, Hull, Bournemouth, Burnley and Crystal Palace are already sponsored by betting companies like 138.com, DAFABET, SportPesa, BetEast, Mansion Group etc.
In short, it means that gambling companies need to build an emotional analogy between themselves, the sport they patron, and the fans that both love the sport and are the brands consumers. This is best achieved via a creative platform that demonstrates that the brand understands the sport, perceives the fans and most importantly wants to manoeuvre its power to make the sport better for the fans and the game itself.
As we have analysed, the defining change in sports betting has been the shift to football fans betting on the myriad outcomes of the game they love and believe they understand. In a market where the missing facet is customer loyalty, it surely makes sense to recognise this deep and abiding relationship between the fans and their sport, and thus seek to use this as the core message in sponsorship communications.
We do not mean paying lip service to this relationship, but to truly embrace it and in part show the fans that you love the sport too. Affinity with the fans is the way to build customer loyalty, and this can be achieved by showing an authentic approach to the issues, which fans truly care for. Who knows, it may even serve to deflect a future Labour government.
Therefore, a strategic recommendation to build a truly differentiated position in sports’ most cluttered category. A gambling brand is best advised to develop a creative territory, which places fans at the heart of the game, to support initiatives that are close to the concerns of fans, and make supporting football better. In short, find a noble purpose and work hard to improve football for its very lifeblood, the fans.