Premier League shirt sponsorship used to be dominated by cars, booze and bank brands, but the dominant category is now gambling firms.
For the 2015/16 season, seven out of the 20 Premier League teams have a gambling company on their shirt and all 20 have an official gambling partner.
One of the most sought-after benefits of sponsorship is brand awareness and in the saturated gambling industry, achieving top-of-mind awareness is vital. So it makes sense for gambling brands to get involved with the Premier League.
Premier League exposure for middling costs
It’s noticeable that none of the top six shirt sponsorship deals in the Premier League are with gambling companies. The average value of shirt sponsorship deals for gambling sponsors is also £3.9m, compared with the league average of £11.2m.
With the highest value shirt sponsorship deal by a gambling company being Betway’s £6m-a-year deal with West Ham, it seems gambling companies are targeting mid- and lower- table teams, probably hoping to get Premier League exposure without paying the premium of association with the top clubs.
But with so many gambling sponsors in English football, how many are getting the cut-through? The sponsorship market is now highly cluttered, making it very difficult for any one company to stand out from the crowd.
In a crowded market, the real benefit of brand recall really comes from activating the sponsorship. But too many gambling partners stop their investment at the point of signing the sponsorship deal, neglecting the opportunity to actually communicate that association and reinforce the link in the minds of fans.
That isn’t necessarily for want of trying. Gambling activations are tightly controlled under regulations governing the advertising of such services to children. As with alcohol sponsors, gambling sponsors can’t appear on children’s replica kits. There are already those who want to ban fast food, soft drinks and gambling firms from sports sponsorships.
Beyond the cash cows
With the value of sponsorship to gambling brands under threat, clubs might need to look to alternative partners. My hope is that clubs would find sponsors who can drive commercial benefits for the brands and the clubs, and meaningful interaction with fans.
Given the scale of the deals on offer from gambling companies, there’s a question of their value to the clubs. Clearly all teams are desperate to maximise commercial revenue to fund player transfers and wages, balance the books and keep within UEFA’s financial rules.
But sponsorship shouldn’t just be a cash cow for Premier League teams.
If done well, it offers clubs an opportunity to add value for fans (think, for example of O2’s many successful activations of its sponsorship of the England Rugby Team) and to help the club in pursuing other objectives. For example, Chelsea will use its deal with Yokohama to further its international expansion.
It’s not easy to find a company to cough up for a shirt sponsorship, and it would be naïve to suggest clubs should shun all future offers from gambling firms.
But by thinking creatively about sponsorship packages, clubs could secure deals with add more than just financial value.
In doing this, even clubs outside of the top six can attract interest from a range of potential sponsors, which may not only even up the balance of sponsors in the Premier League but lead to a more sustainable, long-term sponsorship model.