It’s fair to say that the landscape has shifted somewhat in football sponsorship, ever since Coventry City became the first club in the English game to bear a commercial logo on the front of their shirts – the British vehicle manufacturer Talbot – almost 50 years ago.
Since then, it has become a free-for-all with – typically – the highest bidder winning out in a battle to have their branding and company name advertised to millions worldwide each and every week.
That approach has led to some moralistic dilemmas in the modern game. Should football clubs be promoting gambling, speculative market trading, fizzy drinks or fast food?
As ever, some campaigners warn of the dire consequences of major institutions essentially giving their seal of approval to commercial partners that might not have the best interests of football supporters at heart.
Particularly damaging, in theory, is the exposure that children and vulnerable adults get to gambling branding, with so many big clubs now bearing the branding of a betting operator. A study from Ipsos MORI found that susceptible groups were more likely to gamble if they had seen advertising and promotional material from the an industry player.
Aside from the question of morality, another critical factor to consider is whether or not gambling sponsorship has become more prevalent in the English game, and specifically the Premier League – which, of course, is the most high-profile competition in the land and also one of the most watched worldwide, with big games viewed by more than three billion people around the globe.
So, looking at the past decade, is gambling sponsorship on the rise in the Premier League?
Number of Betting Company Shirt Sponsors
Premier League 2011/12
Gambling sponsors: 7
You may remember the 2011/21 campaign – it was that amazing season in which the title eventually went to Manchester City after Sergio Aguero’s late, late winner on the final day at QPR.
As far as gambling sponsorships were concerned, there was already a strong correlation in place with seven different clubs giving over the front of their shirts to betting firms. Aston Villa were sponsored by Genting Casinos, while Bolton Wanderers’ kit was adorned by 188bet – the now defunct operator.
Sunderland were sponsored by the online bingo firm Tombola, Swansea City by 32Red and the kits of the three Ws – West Brom, Wigan and Wolves – were emblazoned by Bodog, 12BET and Sportingbet respectively.
Premier League 2012/13
Gambling sponsors: 5
Manchester United cantered to the Premier League title in 2012/13, triumphing in the April – only the fourth time in the competition’s history that the trophy has been won with as many as five games remaining.
It’s also a notable campaign for the relative scarcity of gambling sponsors – just five, which is the lowest total of the decade at a relatively paltry 25%.
Aston Villa, Swansea City, West Ham and Wigan Athletic retained their previous sponsors, while Stoke City’s long association with local outfit bet365 – a partnership which exists to this day – began at the start of the 2012/13 campaign.
Sunderland and West Brom ended their gambling sponsorships, turning instead to Invest in Africa and property seller Zoopla respectively.
Premier League 2013/14
Gambling sponsors: 3
The 2013/14 season was a low point for Liverpool, who threw away a comfortable lead for what would have been their maiden Premier League triumph. And it was also a low point for gambling sponsorship too, with just three top-flight teams promoting betting operators.
Aston Villa had switched from Genting Casinos to Asian bookmaker dafabet, Fulham signed a brand new deal with Marathonbet and Stoke City’s relationship with bet365 continued.
This campaign saw a few clubs draw ire for their choice of sponsor – not just the gambling ones. Newcastle Untied advertised payday loan firm Wonga on their kit, while Hull City opted for Cash Converters as their main sponsor.
Premier League 2014/15
Gambling sponsors: 5
It was the return of the Special One in 2014/15, with Jose Mourinho guiding Chelsea to their first Premier League title in five years.
There was a marked increase in the number of gambling sponsors in the competition too – up 10% on the previous campaign.
Aston Villa and Stoke City continued their previous relationships, while West Ham began their long-standing deal with Betway. Newly promoted Burnley were sponsored by fun88, while Hull City went from a moralistic frying pan into the fire by ditching Cash Converters for 12BET.
Premier League 2015/16
Gambling sponsors: 7
For supporters of Leicester City, the 2015/16 Premier League season will take some topping – that was the scene of their first ever top-flight league win….not bad for a 5,000/1 shot!
As far as gambling sponsorships were concerned, this was (at the time) a record-equalling year with seven clubs bearing the branding of a betting firm from home or overseas.
The Mansion Group entered the game and snared deals with Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, while Sunderland took Aston Villa’s place the ambassador for dafabet. Stoke and West Ham continued with bet365 and Betway, while Premier League newcomers Watford went with the now-defunct 138.com.
Completing the set, West Brom opted for little-known Phillipine outfit Tlcbet.
Premier League 2016/17
Gambling sponsors: 10
It was a return to the big time for Chelsea, who won their second Premier League title in three years in 2016/17, and that was played out against the backdrop of the ‘worst’ campaign yet for gambling sponsorship.
A whopping 50% of all Premier League clubs were sponsored by a gambling operator, with existing partnerships (Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Stoke, Sunderland, Watford and West Ham) joined by new deals.
These had a truly global feel, with African firm SportPesa on the shirts of Hull, BetEast sponsoring Swansea and Asian group K8 taking the honours at West Brom. Promoted Burnley joined the dafabet stable too.
Premier League 2017/18
Gambling sponsors: 9
It was a stellar season for Manchester City in 2017/18 as they romped to the Premier League title, breaking records for most points, most wins and most goals scored.
It wasn’t a record-breaking campaign for gambling sponsorships, but it wasn’t far away – a 5% reduction on the previous year could be considered progress.
A weird and wonderful array of betting operators joined the sponsorship party, including M88 (Bournemouth), ManBetX (Crystal Palace), OPE Sports (Huddersfield), Fun88 (Newcastle) and Letou (Swansea). Many of these have now disappeared without a trace or have failed to break into the UK market to any degree.
Elsewhere, West Ham, Stoke and Burnley continued with their existing deals, while Everton joined the SportPesa party.
Premier League 2018/19
Gambling sponsors: 9
There was an incredible title race in 2018/19, with Manchester City – who won their last 14 consecutive games – pipping Liverpool to the post. The Reds’ 97-point haul is the highest for a top-flight runner-up in history.
And it was a case of as you were on the sponsorship front too, with nine different clubs promoting gambling on their shirts.
Many pre-existing deals were continued, although LaBa360 joined the party by sponsoring Burnley, Fulham became the third different Premier League club to be sponsored by dafabet and promoted Wolves wore the branding of the W88 group on their kit.
Premier League 2019/20
Gambling sponsors: 10
Liverpool would have their revenge on Manchester City in 2019/20, winning their first title since the Premier League branding came into force and their first top-flight title at all in 30 years.
It was a record-equalling year on the branding fronyt, with ten clubs – again, that’s 50% – sponsored by a gambling operator of some kind.
Wolves switched to ManBetX from W88, who went out and became a partner to West Midlands rivals Aston Villa. Dafabet, those guys again, took on the sponsorship of Norwich City, while start-up firm Sportsbet.io partnered with Watford. LoveBet were the latest to get the nod from Burnley.
In amongst all that, one of the longest-standing relationships celebrated its five-year anniversary – West Ham and Betway continuing their fruitful link-up.
Premier League 2020/21
Gambling sponsors: 8
Last season was another stellar year for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who once again prevailed in the Premier League title race.
There was a 10% reduction in the number of gambling sponsorships as well, with established partners moving round – much like in the transfer window.
W88 swapped Aston Villa for Crystal Palace while Sportsbet.io moved from Watford to Southampton, and other deals at the likes of Burnley, Newcastle, West Ham and Wolves continued.
A couple of new players entered the game too. BetVictor took on sponsorship duties at Fulham, while Leeds United wore the branding of SBOTOP on their return to the top-flight.
So is Gambling Sponsorship in the Premier League On the Rise?
To complete the picture, it’s worth noting that eight Premier League sides will be sponsored by gambling firms for the 2021/22 campaign – it would have been nine had Norwich not hastily ended their agreement with BK8 prematurely.
But, for the decade outlined in the table above, it’s noteworthy that the average number of clubs sponsored by a betting firm per season prior to 2016/17 was 5.4, and since then the figure has increased to 9.2.
Those numbers may seem small, but remember that each new club that picks up a gambling sponsor equates to 5% of the overall Premier League tally – a rise from 5.4 to 9.2 is actually around 20%, in real terms.
There is talk of the UK government banning gambling sponsorship in football, and looking at the stats that might be the only way that the beautiful game can end its sometimes ugly association with the industry.