Volume: 15 Issue: 7
The Football Association (‘The FA’) announced that it has ended its four-year commercial partnership with Ladbrokes Coral on 22 June 2017, confirming that it has agreed to end all sponsorships with betting companies starting from the end of the 2016-17 season, following a three-month review of The FA’s approach to betting sponsorship as a governing body responsible for the regulation of sports betting within football.
The FA suspended former Burnley football player and England international Joey Barton from football for 18 months in April 2017 on betting related charges, and whilst admitting guilt Barton called on footballing authorities to face up to what he considered to be The FA’s conflict of interest. The incident led to The FA Chairman Greg Clarke instigating a three-month review, with The FA board concluding in May that it must end all sponsorship arrangements with betting companies.
“Undoubtedly it was Joey Barton’s accusations of hypocrisy following his ban for betting which finally pushed The FA into taking its decision,” said David Zeffman, Partner at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP. “There always has been a potential conflict between sports accepting money from bookmakers whilst, at the same time, prohibiting their participants from betting. Horseracing obviously has a very close relationship with betting and bookmakers are one of the biggest sponsor groups in racing. However, there is clearly a difference in degree when it’s the regulator which is being sponsored.”
The FA stressed in its press release that it will continue to work with betting companies, including Ladbrokes Coral, as they play a key role in sharing information on suspicious betting patterns and as such help in regulating the game. “I’d be very surprised indeed if The FA outlawed betting sponsorships of individual clubs, as it is a good source of income, particularly for some of the smaller clubs,” adds Zeffman.
Attila Hunter, Associate Solicitor at Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP, notes that despite the significance of The FA’s decision to end its commercial relationships with betting companies, there are still many significant bodies in English football that will continue to maintain close partnerships with betting companies. “Although the Premier League does not have an official betting partner, Sky Bet are the sponsors of the English Football League until at least 2019, and so the impact of betting in football is not likely to change anytime soon,” said Hunter. “Gambling will continue to feature heavily in football.”
The FA is yet to announce a new commercial partner, but as the Premier League is still without a sponsor since its commercial deal with Barclays ended in 2016, it is uncertain when or if The FA will announce a new sponsorship deal.
“The FA ending its commercial sponsorship with Ladbrokes Coral is a step in the right direction,” concludes Hunter, “and the Professional Footballers’ Association has been credited with setting up a clinic, Sports Chance, to help players and former players with gambling problems, however clearly more needs to be done. There is increased pressure on the Premier League and its clubs to limit the promotion of gambling in football but with the sponsorships and finances in place this will be a difficult challenge.”