Anyone who wants to make a conveniently sweeping judgment about the relative growth of any given industry in the domestic and, increasingly, global market need not look very much further than the names and logos ironed across the front of Premier League replica shirts. Soccer, it seems, is the new sex. It sells. It also looks tacky when touted around by a remorselessly cheap pop culture, courts controversy like it’s going out of fashion and often leaves one feeling unfulfilled. All three phenomena are a common theme of the modern alliance between the game and 21st century advertising practices. The cosy relationship between online betting firms and the Premier League’s colors and crests feels particularly uncomfortable.
Between 2011 and 2014, there will have been a total of 10 online gambling agencies splashed across the fronts of top-flight shirts spreading a creeping and insidious dye throughout the game’s fabric. The Premier League talks a lot about corporate responsibility – applied lightly with a delicate sprinkling of just £3.1million from the £5billion windfall that comes from global broadcast contracts alone – but responsibility comes in many forms and the image that the League has increasingly been transmitting of itself since the first online betting brand appeared on Fulham’s shirts in 2002 is in crisis.
The question on the lips of every executive decision maker at organizations spanning the full spectrum of ambition and reach will always be ‘what kind of business do we wish to operate?’ The answer from Richard Scudamore and friends, if the question is being asked at all, seems to be that an institution that fails to respond to be a pandemic within its ranks and transmits a destructive example to a vulnerable subset of its core support is a-ok as long the coffers continue to swell.
Gambler addicts (and footballers) Dominic Matteo, Matthew Etherington and Didi Hamman have suffered the most high profile falls of the last few years whilst Keith Gillespie and Michael Chopra also confronted their addictions publicly, but testimony from a catalog of Premier League managers and staff bears witness to a habit that drains millions from the pockets of players, many of whom have financial and emotional commitments to young families. Jose Mourinho remarked in 2007 that gambling was etched into the DNA of professional football culture and the message coming from the very top is that the authorities see this as an opportunity rather than a problem to be addressed.