It’s 45 years since Southern League Kettering Town became the first English team to have a shirt sponsor. They dared to print the name of local firm Kettering Tyres across the shirt and faced a heavy FA fine as a result. Now, getting shirt sponsorship is an essential element of every club’s marketing mix.
Manchester United have just signed a five-year deal with German global tech firm TeamViewer. Even though we are in a pandemic, the deal is believed to be worth £47m a year. It’s a major deal for both parties, but the word is gambling companies were interested in forging a deal with the Premier League club, perhaps for even more money, but United rejected them.
TeamViewer is not a widely recognised company, but you’ve probably never heard of Kettering Tyres either. Mind you, United do have an official tyre partnership deal with Apollo Tyres. Believe it or not, they also have a ‘global mattress and pillow partner’. But that’s another story.
Making up for lost revenues
A lucrative shirt sponsorship deal is important for United after all the matchday revenue lost in the past year. Recent figures show a loss of nearly £100m because of the pandemic. Other companies have also been making losses, so sponsors aren’t too easy to find at present. The length of the deal also gives some security to United.
Performances on the pitch are getting better, but the squad can be improved further with sponsorship money.
The TeamViewer deal is believed to be £5m a year less than their current deal. Considering United’s failure to win a Premier League or Champions League title and the economic climate, that’s not too large a drop.
Did they reject a betting-related sponsorship deal, and if so, why? The Times reported that there were deals offered that were worth more than the new one at Old Trafford. They also believe that no gambling-related company even made it onto the shortlist for potential new sponsors.
Just who the possible betting companies were isn’t known. It is not thought that it was STS Bet – this casino is advertised by Peter Schmeichel, Manchester United’s former legendary goalkeeper.
It’s not that United are against any deals with betting companies. They have never had a shirt sponsorship deal with a betting company. However, Yabo Sports is their official betting partner, so such deals do exist. As of last month, eight of the Premier League’s 20 teams were sponsored by betting companies, including West Ham, Newcastle United and Leeds United. Further, 17 out of 20 clubs had some kind of association with a betting company.
Betting advertising regulations
Undoubtedly, one major reason why United has chosen no betting company is upcoming Government legislation. There is a review of the 2005 Gambling Act on its way. One proposal being considered is banning sponsorship of football teams by betting companies.
Spain has already gone down this route and, if copied in this country, it would present major problems for clubs. If it does happen, clubs will press for the ban to be phased in so that they have time to arrange new sponsorship deals.
A House of Lords committee has already recommended that shirt sponsorship by gambling companies be banned. The committee heard from Richard Masters, who is the chief executive of the Premier League. He told them that “we do not think there should be a prohibition on sponsorship of football clubs or other sports club, for that matter”.
The reasons why betting companies want sponsorship deals are easy to understand. They help spread awareness of their product to fans of the sport who are potential gamblers.
There is also the worry that signing major deals with betting companies is not a great thing to do. It’s feared that deals that promote gambling puts people at risk of developing gambling problems. This is similar to the campaigns that saw an end to tobacco sponsorship of sports.
The fact that Manchester United has never accepted gambling sponsorship on its shirts suggests the club is mindful of the potential harm that betting can cause, and most United fans agree.
Three years ago, Luton Town turned down a sponsorship offer of over £500,000. Their chief executive Gary Sweet explained that they just did not “feel comfortable” with such a deal. “We don’t want to promote excessive gambling behaviour through our support base and our players,” he added.
In football, it’s not just shirts that offer sponsorship opportunities. There is advertising in grounds, on websites, in matchday programmes – even the stadium name might be up for grabs.