Gambling, Football Each Take the Field

Published June 16, 2007 by OCR Editor

Gambling, Football Each Take the Field

While soccer teams in England and elsewhere around Europe are signing sponsorship deals with online casino companies, governments are challenging the deals and trying to protect their own state-owned establishments.

The football season in England is about to come to an end. The English Premier League is considered by many to be the best league in the world. It is certainly of the most popular ones, which quickly translates into big business. With teams' worth estimated at hundreds of millions of British Pounds, international billionaires joining in on the fun and buying teams and the players payrolls at the high millions per year, the season promises excitement year round.

Until recently there was some free space on the playing field. We do not mean the grass, which is often covered by sharp-shooting wingers, attacking midfielders, mobile sweepers or other position holders on the teams, but rather the jerseys worn by the players. Hey, if millions are watching the games and millions more dream of taking their place on the playing field, there is big money to be made in this advertising spot as well.

In the past few years, with increasing momentum this past season, online casinos have joined in and advertised on players' jerseys. While business-wise this may have been a wise move, it has also spurned some controversy and turned the soccer field to a bizarre battleground over sponsorship, protectionism and gambling licensing. How did we get to this?

The richest sponsorship deals between an online gambling group and soccer teams in the whole of Europe are in England. Other countries have joined in as well, most recently Bwin, the Gibraltar-based online gambling group, sponsors of Italian soccer club AC Milan, which added Spanish champs Real Madrid as well. Each such deal is worth well over 10 million GBP per year.

In England, no less than five teams may end up wearing the valuable logos on their shirts next season: Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Middlesbrough, the latter with the big game company 888 will all do so.

With a price like this, the business sense is doubted and other motives enter the guess work over why on earth would an Internet business spend so much money on a sponsorship deal. Besides the obvious ties between online gambling and soccer, more precisely the gamblers and the soccer fans that are often one and the same, there is a political element involved as well.

In a time in which the future of the industry is discussed by legislators, lawmakers and regulators, it is important for the industry to show its presence, increase it, win over more fans and prove that it is a contributing part of the greater economy.

Regulators are not giving in to these legit efforts too fast. In France, where the battle against local industry companies has taken a life of its own, instances of arrests have taken place and some companies are even banned from sponsoring soccer teams. The battle is head on. Toulouse was not allowed to adorn the 888 logo on their shirts, and Nantes had to remove its own logo.

The battle - the legal battle, not the sport matches on the field - is still in progress. The online gambling companies believe the law is on their side, and recent rulings support their claim. And yet the governments, who often promote their own monopolies that are state-run and that they wish to protect are fighting back. What will the players end up wearing on their backs? You'll have to check back by next season and see how the ball rolls from here.

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