New Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says that while his league is happy to work with the UK government when it comes to regulating gambling, he believes that soccer clubs should be able to have sports betting partners.
Masters made the comments at a time when UK government officials and the gaming industry itself are considering bans on betting firm logos appearing on the jerseys of Premier League soccer teams.
Premier League ‘Not Sniffy’ When It Comes to Betting
The Times reported last month that government ministers were expected to strengthen restrictions on betting company branding on soccer shirts. On Tuesday, Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chair Brigid Simmonds said that bookmakers would consider a voluntary ban on such cresting.
“We are certainly looking at the whole issue of sponsorship,” Simmonds told reporters. “All the sponsorship that goes with clubs is about putting responsible messages on shirts, as well as the name. We can consider this going forward, we are active in considering it.”
Masters took a very different tact. The Premier League CEO told Sky News that while rules and regulations could be tweaked, a total ban on betting sponsorships wasn’t the answer.
We’re not sniffy about the gambling industry,” Masters said. “The Premier League has never had a betting relationship, but it’s our clubs that enter into shirt sponsorship. The whole area does need, I think, probably, slightly firmer regulation, particularly around the most vulnerable. But I don’t necessarily think that the answer should be that clubs should no longer have betting partnerships.”
Betting companies dominate the sponsorship space in the top English soccer leagues. Ten of the 20 Premier League teams have a gambling operator as their main shirt sponsor, who paid a combined $91 million for that placement.
Bookmakers enjoy even more visibility at lower levels of English soccer. Approximately 15 of 24 teams in the second-tier Championship have a betting company sponsor on their shirt. Gambling firm Sky Bet sponsors the English Football League, which oversees the Championship and the next two tiers down.
Bookmakers Backing Off in Face of Scrutiny
Betting firms have already cut back on their advertising during soccer matches. Gaming ads are no longer shown on UK television from whistle-to-whistle of each match. That’s a move that the BGC says has reduced the amount of gambling advertising during games by 85 percent.
GVC voluntarily withdrew all of its soccer sponsorships last year, with CEO Kenny Alexander saying, “There are probably too many gambling adverts and too much noise about gambling in front of consumers in the UK at the moment.”
Masters also talked about the future of VAR (video assistant referee), a topic that might be even more controversial among soccer fans than gambling.
“I think it’s here to stay, and certainly it’s going to be with us next season,” Masters said. “It is having an impact on the outcome of games, on the league tables, which is what [we] wanted to happen. And as a league we want to work really hard on ironing out those other issues, and that is what we are discussing with clubs.”
While VAR has improved the number of correct calls in Premier League games, it often leads to long delays after goals. VAR also leads to some controversial reversals, particularly when it comes to offside decisions that change based on a matter of millimeters.
“I think offsides is [an area for possible change] and whether you want offsides that are precise to the armpit or the heel, or whether you want to build in a bit of tolerance,” Masters said.