By Abi Curran
Gambling advertising is a cornerstone to sport as a commercial industry, but this is hugely problematic.
On a normal sporting matchday, you might put on your replica shirt which has a betting company logo printed onto the centre. You might listen to the radio through your car or headphones on your way to the stadium; you hear Ray Winstone, the voice of Bet365, reeling off the latest odds. As you approach the stadium there are digital screens with adverts on them for a different betting company this time. Much of the panelling within the stadium itself, as you find when you approach your seat, is plastered with your club’s gambling sponsor.
At half-time, on your way to the queue for a pie, you walk past the bookies stand tempted for a flutter in the fifteen-minute window. Following the match, as you leave the stadium, more betting adverts on the big screen appear, you make your journey home once again listening to the radio. Regardless of the result, you scroll through your phone and social media, all applications laced with further odds for the midweek game or a dead certain fixture the following week.
Within the space of half a day the average sports fan has encountered an ample amount of betting advertisements across multiple platforms. In the 21st century, the age of the digital world, sports gambling has become normalised and somewhat integral to the enjoyment of the game.
Particularly within football, the advertisements are inescapable. This poses a particular problem for young people whose access to betting apps can become second nature.
Of course, the new digitised enjoyment of sport due to the pandemic, which is now consumed by fans through a screen, poses even more of a threat to gamblers or potential gamblers who have betting sites at their fingertips. This is further enhanced by betting advertisements which are present on screen for much of the build-up before, during and after a game.
Researchers at Goldsmith’s University, London found that gambling logos appeared on screen during the family friendly Match of the Day programme for between 71% and 89% of its running time. It is this exposure which makes gambling within the UK and football normalised into the subconscious realm when consuming sport. This is dangerous to the most vulnerable sports fans in society.
In the 2019/20 football season half of Premier League clubs featured a betting company as their main shirt sponsor. As rules to do with the advertisement of betting companies are strict abroad, foreign companies look to the Premier League to expose their brand. The UK, following the 2005 Gambling Act under Tony Blair’s government, has some of the most lenient gambling laws in the world.
Perhaps the UK can look to Australia and New South Wales who have banned betting sponsorship within stadiums hosting Big Bash League games to try and address its normalisation and raise awareness of the harms of gambling.
Cricket NSW are leading by example, wanting to promote a ‘family friendly’ experience of the game. The League recently formed a partnership with the NSW Office of Responsible Gambling for two years.
In 2019, UK advertisers implemented voluntary curbs on TV advertising which meant that there would be no gambling ads before 9pm. This took effect during the Ashes series of that year and was praised as a success.
However, without tighter, more enforceable laws from the government, sports betting is too accessible and normalised within society.
Official figures on spikes in gambling during the pandemic are not completely transparent but, as sport returned to our screens, betting on sport became a way of being actively involved in the game for fans who could only watch from their armchairs via a screen.
The UK can move towards a more family friendly way of consuming sport if laws on sports betting advertisements are stricter. However, the commercial wealth generated from sports gambling is estimated to be in its billions which is why some officials are reluctant to make drastic changes.
Even Cricket NSW, the pioneers of stricter laws on betting advertisements, lists Bet365 as one of its main corporate partners. It appears that, once again, generated wealth is held in higher stead than the safety of sports fans and to risk losing gambling revenue comes at too high a cost for the commercial sporting world.
Image: Lionel Roubeyrie via Flickr