With the English football season upon us, it is a good time to reflect on the state of the game as we prepare for another thrilling season of sporting ups and downs. It is fair to say football has never been in better shape. The Lionesses brought it home for England after a fantastic journey to Wembley and hopes are high that Gareth Southgate can take the next step with England’s men this December following a semi-final and a final in the last two tournaments. And with Rangers reaching the Europa League final after a fantastic campaign and English clubs having made up a large proportion of the latter stages of the Champions League, there is huge momentum behind our national sport.
But against this backdrop of sporting success, there has been an ongoing focus on our industry and its relationship with football – some of which is fair, some unfair and some simply untrue. We must not forget that sports betting is part of the cultural fabric of the UK and remains a legitimate and popular entertainment pastime.
Every month 22.5m adults in the UK have a wager, and according to the independent regulator, the rates of problem gambling in the UK are low, at 0.2 per cent of the population. We take that small minority who do develop a problem very seriously – that’s why we launched our Journey Towards Zero, Kindred’s goal to prevent revenue derived from harmful gaming on our platforms by utilising our pioneering Player Safety Early Detection System built on behavioural science and data. But it is a fact the overwhelming majority use platforms like ours in a responsible way to have a flutter.
Despite this, sports sponsorship continues to concentrate debate, even though it is actually a peripheral issue in the wider context of the hard work being done to reduce gambling-related harm, and especially when compared to the powerful measures we take using technology, data and other interventions to keep customers safe which are making a real difference.
And we know it can be a force for good, because sport sponsors have a unique link to communities, places and people, and therefore present a huge opportunity to make a difference. At Kindred, we took the decision a few years ago to launch a new model of football club sponsorship – one that means investing in the local community, as well as the club.
Research we commissioned from Public First in 2020 showed men were less likely to be aware of symptoms of poor mental health and less likely to report them if they did notice them - but they had a shared passion for football. This led to the creation of the award-winning ‘Team Talk’ scheme now running at multiple clubs, which harnesses a shared love of football to bring men together to talk openly about mental health issues.
That’s why calls for a blanket ban would clearly have a huge impact – both in terms of initiatives we support but also the broader football pyramid. As the EFL have said previously, the significant contribution betting companies make to the ongoing financial sustainability of professional football at all levels is as important now as ever.
There’s a bigger issue here, too. A focus on blanket measures such as sponsorship or advertising bans is a clear signal of a lack of understanding in the measures needed to drive down rates of problem gambling.
It is also a microcosm of the wider misunderstanding in the debate on gambling. Firstly, it exposes a preference for headline grabbing measures, rather than evidence-based solutions. There is no evidence to suggest banning sponsorship or advertising would reduce problem gambling.
Second, it shows a lack of understanding of our businesses, evidenced by the outrageous claims that profit is overwhelming derived from those with a problem, which is untrue, and the complete misunderstanding of why any company advertises. There is a choice for consumers as in any other industry, whether that’s to shop at Aldi instead of Sainsbury’s or to buy Coca Cola instead of Pepsi, companies advertise their brand and their products and consumers are free to choose.
And thirdly, a lack of ambition to solve problems in a complex, real world. Is there really no more nuanced approach than a blanket ban? Has anyone considered who will take the place of betting companies?
As Baroness Fox recently said, a sponsorship ban would imply that “all a fan needs to see is an advert or logo and they become addicted to having a flutter”. This approach is lazy, lacks any evidence and ignores the freedoms we all enjoy in the UK.
It is clear from claims by campaigners that sponsorship bans are seen as ‘just the start’ to a wider blackout on the industry – this should be an issue for all of us committed to a long-term sustainable future that balances customer protection with customer freedom.
It is vital that policymakers bear this in mind – and maintain the right of responsible, sustainable, licensed companies like ours to sponsor sport as we head towards the publication of the White Paper in the coming months. We can continue to build strong sporting organisations and strong communities through a revitalised sponsorship model – and I’m proud that Kindred are the betting and gaming company leading the way.
This article was first posted on PoliticsHome 03/08/2022 08:00am