Premier League shirt gambling ban is a cynical and transparent move

John Nicholson

There was a lot of fuss last week about the Premier League decision to remove gambling sponsors from the front of shirts from 2026 while leaving all other forms of betting advertising untouched.

It was a cynical, transparent move to get ahead of probable future legislation. We know that gambling advertising is omnipresent in football (we certainly earn money from that sector) and in life more broadly. It has become suffused into the financial lifeblood at every level of the game, so it’s understandable that the less-monied end of football and football media does not want to outlaw its advertising given it is dependent on the income; what is more puzzling is why top-flight clubs care about this cash.

Gambling sponsorship income is relatively peanuts. The eight clubs with betting sponsors on the front of the shirts rake in about £60million per annum. That’s just over seven million each for clubs that are getting £100-£160million of free money just for playing in the league, regardless of other financial deals.

So basically, this on-shirt advertising is making them look really bad for a financial reward that makes little significant difference to them.

Wherever you stand on gambling advertising and almost everyone must be either indifferent or against – it’s not the sort of thing you can want to see more of – it seems senseless for businesses which are stuffed with money already to make themselves look bad. What business wants to do that?

If the gambling ads are the only thing paying all your bills, it is understandable that you’d want to keep them. But if they’re just paying the bill for making already fabulously rich footballers a little bit more rich, that makes zero sense for organisations that are not merely businesses but community concerns.

Surely, declaring your club is refusing to take gambling ads would actually be good for business. Companies would want to associate themselves with a club that wouldn’t take such sponsorship. It would make the club look more ethical and less prepared to suck down as much money as possible regardless of anyone or anything, which is the way it looks right now.

Jarrod Bowen, Danny Ings, West Ham United, April 2023

It isn’t as though this is an extreme or radical idea. The principle of not allowing specific product advertising in specific situations is well-established, going back to 1965 when cigarette adverts were banned from TV in the UK, which by 2005 had become a total ban on all advertising of tobacco in all contexts and a ban on sponsorship by tobacco companies. The world didn’t end even though some said it would. See also: the smoking ban.

There were familiar arguments against this at the time. That it deprived businesses and magazines of much-needed income. That advertising wasn’t to recruit new smokers but to get them to switch brands. That it was a personal decision to smoke and the state shouldn’t be restricting people’s freedom of choice. And anyway, my granddad smoked 60 a day and lived to be 92, so it was all overblown.

With gambling, the stats on addiction, damage and deaths associated with it are hard to challenge. There is growing and serious concern about it and that concern has become mainstream, thanks to organisations like Big Step. And the industry knows it, if the amount of ads featuring Harry Redknapp warning us to take a break from gambling are anything to go by.

The issue of betting companies advertising in sport is only going one way; there’s going to be less, not more. so why not get ahead of the game and plan to replace it all voluntarily when contracts expire, at least in the Premier League? It won’t be a significant financial wrench because its place will be taken by something else and an improved image will allow clubs to leverage greater income from more socially responsible organisations. Pretending you care is the modern way.

Football clubs and footballers do so many things that are good for their local community from helping support food banks to raising money for local charities. As significant, and unique, civic institutions, they do have a duty of care to their community. Do they really want to promote something increasingly seen as problematic?

Football clubs don’t, or shouldn’t exist purely to maximise income at every opportunity, no matter where that money comes from.

In the future, I’m sure ads for betting will look as bizarre as ads suggesting that smoking menthol cigarettes is a good way to clear your lungs.

Yeah, you’ve come a long way, baby, but let’s go a bit further.