THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Sean Comerford
Member, Board of Directors
I have been following a lot of football (soccer) in the last few years and have very much enjoyed it. The international nature of the game along with the excitement of the recent World Cup, etc., make it a nice complement to watching purely domestic or regional sports. However, one thing that is a bit odd, at least to this American sports fan, is the tolerance of sponsorships on the uniforms of the players. The sponsorships are invariably more prominent and flashier than the actual club crests. This can be annoying but uneventful if a sponsor is something like a well-known consumer brand, such as a carmaker. However, the sponsorships for European sports teams are increasingly for gambling.
In a Pete Rose-esque situation, Ivan Toney, an English Premier League striker for the club Brentford, was recently banned from football for the better part of the next year because he was found to have bet on the sport numerous times against regulations. This included betting on his own team to lose when he was not scheduled to play. Unlike Pete Rose, however, Toney’s bookie was essentially emblazoned on his shirt -- Brentford is one team among many that is currently sponsored by a betting company in the Premiership.
This may not be shocking even to Americans now in our "everything is sponsored by DraftKings" existence. However, as people not of gambling age watch these sports, do gambling advertisements send a message that is harmful to consumers? In England, at least, there is some “consciousness of guilt” as shirts sold for youngsters are forbidden to display betting platform logos, instead featuring blank space.
There have been reports that the Premier League teams agreed to dial back betting sponsorships, at least on the front of shirts, in the coming years. It appears to be a tardy attempt to quiet some of the uncomfortable feelings that arose in the wave of this seemingly overnight takeover by the gambling industry.
Were professional sports not profitable enough even without betting sponsors? Was it not foreseeable that there would be repercussions to ceding “typical” sponsorship space to gambling companies?
Even if most who choose to gamble can do so responsibly, is sponsorship money worth ensnaring the small percentage of people that might become addicted? It seems that for now, on both sides of the Atlantic, the answer is yes, whether we like it or not.