It is, quite possibly, a first for English football.
Watford FC have revealed their new kit for the 2023/24 season – a jazzy little number featuring their traditional yellow and black colour scheme.
But in a unique twist, the club’s fans can decide whether to buy a version with the front-of-shirt sponsor on or a plainer version without.
That sponsor? Online casino outfit MrQ.
Q and Wahey
Watford haven’t been shy of a gambling sponsor or two over the years.
During their last tenure in the Premier League, the Hornets proudly displayed the logo of North American betting firm Stake.com on the front of their shirt, while Dogecoin, the mysterious cryptocurrency operator, have also featured on the shirt’s sleeves.
The club is now sponsored by online casino platform MrQ, which has drawn criticism from some sections of Watford’s fanbase over their continued reliance on gambling firms to pump money into the club’s coffers.
So officials have come up with a compromise – fans can buy the new shirt ‘off the peg’, complete with the MrQ sponsorship logo, or they can instead opt to but the same shirt but with the MrQ branding replaced by a blank space.
For the first time all shirts will be available to purchase without sponsors for those who prefer. https://t.co/QTWjTIN6kE
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) June 23, 2023
This is, to our knowledge at least, the first time that this has been done in English football, and you have to applaud what can be considered a PR win for the club – while fans who are against the gambling industry can still proudly where Watford’s colours.
Of course, there’s a counter-argument that says MrQ have presumably stumped up big money to feature on the shirt of a Championship club, and that Watford – who signed the sponsorship deal, ultimately – shouldn’t be allowed to take the moral high ground by effectively breaking their contract in this way.
Football fans on Twitter described the innovation as a ‘great move’, a ‘first win of the season’ and a ‘fantastic initiative’, while others – as people tend to do these days – queried if the shirt would be cheaper without the sponsor as there’s lower printing costs….
Premier League clubs have voluntarily agreed to remove gambling sponsors from the front of their shorts by the 2026/27 season, so while Watford continue to play in the second tier they can make the most of their MrQ deal – whether you’d know it from their playing kit or not.
Tone Deaf Villains
Although that voluntary ban doesn’t kick in for a few years, the idea behind is was to allow existing deals between football clubs and gambling firms to expire naturally.
It wasn’t, anecdotally, to buy clubs extra time to squeeze in a new deal with a betting operator in the meantime – but Chelsea have climbed through that loophole with Stake.com after it was reported that plans to partner with Paramount Plus were vetoed by the Premier League.
Aston Villa are the latest Premier League club to take advantage of the ban’s delay – and they’ve penned an agreement with one of the most controversial gambling firm’s around.
BK8, a slightly shadowy company thought to be headquartered somewhere in Asia, has previously had a sponsorship agreement in place with Norwich City – that lasted all of three days, when overtly sexualised marketing material that BK8 used to promote their wares serviced.
The Canaries pulled the plug on that deal pronto, and most would have assumed that would be that as far as BK8’s promotional push in English football is concerned.
But they have risen from the ashes and managed to persuade Aston Villa, who will represent England in European competition next season, to allow them to have their logo on the front of their shirt until 2026.
The Villains had initially revealed the deal back in January, but so ferocious was the backlash that club chiefs – including the-then chief executive Christian Purslow – met with supporters to talk over their concerns.
Evidently, those conversations have fallen on deaf ears, with Villa announcing a lengthy three-agreement with the operator.
The Aston Villa supporter’s trust has reacted with fury. They described the move as a ‘cynical last-minute attempt to scoop the financial gains’ of gambling sponsorships before the blanket ban takes hold in 2026.
But the question remains: how many more Premier League clubs will look to scoop the financial gains of a betting sponsor before then?