As More Betting Companies Invest in the EPL, Is It Time For an Ethical Code?

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.

The Premier League’s explicit endorsement of the gambling industry as it makes its relocation from the high street into family homes via increasingly ubiquitous online platforms is having the effect of normalizing, if not the financial and emotional insolvency that is bought on by the full force of the addiction, than at least the risk behavior that leads to it. The blessing is coming across loud, clear and cleanly packaged that easy-access betting is at the heart of what makes the Premier League the best in the world and that the point at which player-fan interaction is at its fullest isn’t any longer on the terraces but on tablets, mobiles and laptops.

And so just what kind of institution does Scudamore hope to leave the Premier League as? Certainly one that keeps up with the changing pace of business and has a keen finger on the throbbing pulse of a dynamic technological market – indeed no other sporting body has shown itself to be as responsive to new ideas in communications and the omnipresent points of contact between the League and its colossal fan base are what keep it current. But form isn’t everything. The League is peddling a dangerous message in its ‘at-all-costs’ approach to growth and brand that fails to take responsibility for its more vulnerable clients leaves a tarnished legacy.

17 thoughts on “As More Betting Companies Invest in the EPL, Is It Time For an Ethical Code?”

  1. A couple of thoughts:

    1) The NFL is the biggest league in the world, in no small part because if its cozy relationship with Las Vegas – producing pre-game reports on the health of all players and Vegas lines allow casual fans to enjoy a vested interest well beyond their own team. The NFL has its own problems, but I don’t recall the last time anyone tied it back to organized gambling.

    2) If there’s to be some sort of moral ban on online gambling services, then it goes without saying that alcohol should be in the same category of “vice exploitation”. Through the years, more footballers had problems with alcohol than gambling, but booze is still in the mix. True, it is less so, but that’ s more a case of advertising outpricing the resources of most traditional booze-based footy shirt sponsors. The same could also be said about tobacco; it was government laws, not footy ethics, that cut their ad presence down.

    3) An argument could be made that relationships with gambling syndicates need to be furthered, not cut. It’s the legitimate bookies who have alerted various associations about odd betting trends that in turn opened up matchfixing investigations. While a lot of matchfixing money is circulated through illegal channels, the legal ones still catch the ebbs and flows in betting trends. The more gambling-oriented groups you have with a vested interest in your league, the harder it is to fix matches and get away with it.

    So, I guess the answer is no, it’s not time for ethical codes. that time was long ago. It’s much easier to prevent a runaway train than trying to chase after one.


  2. I can’t really see a distinction between gambling and alcohol from a moral standpoint. Both are legal vices that can have serious social consequences for people who cannot control themselves.

    But, the demand for gambling doesn’t go away if the legit, online bookies go away. People just start gambling with shady bookkeepers then and those people are more likely to be of the type that break thumbs and legs when people can’t pay. With these online places, they just max out your credit card and then stop accepting bets.

    Plus, as the previous guy noted, you WANT the legit gamblers on the scene because they’re probably the best defense against match fixing. These big gambling operations DO NOT want there to be individuals going around and affecting games in ways that they cannot account for with their odds.

  3. Online gambling is a fast growing revenue generator and the truth is that the capital these companies provide make up a heavy percentage of sponsorship and media rights for smaller clubs. You can’t really blame the clubs and league for endorsing it, when top 4 clubs they compete with are getting 5x to 10x the amount of sponsorship revenue from other brands. It’s legal in the UK, so it’s really no different than alcohol sponsors in US sports.

  4. When you start making value judgments about sponsors, then where does it end?

    If we’re going to get rid of the overt betting sites, well then you have to toss the Forex trading outfits (immensely more sleazy and harmful to most who participate, BTW)

    And what about businesses who engage in corporate malfeasance of one sort or another? Standard Chartered needs to go, then, for their Iranian escapades. Samsung? Can’t have them, Chelsea, they use slave labor in China to build their smartphones. And on and on and on.

    Maybe it’s the libertarian in me, but I’d just say that if a club is willing to let a sponsor associate with it and if the sponsor is willing to pay for that privilege, then let these two parties freely contract with one another.

  5. The betting company logo on the shirt in the picture aren’t just sponsors of that club, they’re it’s owners.

    From a purely selfish point of view I’m hoping to see further markets for online gaming opening up. Bet365 continue to make increasing profits year on year and are the largest local employer given the demise of traditional industries in Stoke-on-Trent. Interestingly they have chosen to remain based in the UK and pay UK taxes, many of their peers are now off shore to avoid this. When the likes of Starbucks, Google, Amazon and Vodafone to name a few are doing anything and everything to wriggle out of their tax obligations in the UK at least Bet365 are meeting their ethical obligations here and not just taking the money and running.

    As with drinking and smoking nobody holds a gun to your head and makes you do it. Funnier enough both Matteo and Etherington have played for Stoke, with Etherington’s gambling debts run up at West Ham, paid off for him and treatment provided. How difficult it must have been for him in an environment where you had Michael Owen more interested in his stables than football I can only imagine.

    Whilst you’re at it have a look at the pay day loan companies that are becoming huge sponsors on the back of making money for extortionate interest rates.

    Interestingly all tobacco company sponsorship was banned from UK sports a few years ago.

    I guess if it’s banned we’ll have to find some American schmuck to foot the bill like everyone else is doing 😉 I’m sure they’re into it because of the goodness of their heart, not because they’ll be able to make any money off it?

    1. “Some American schmuck”.

      Why did your comment have to end with that? Your post was interesting, until your lame and ignorant comment.

      Why is it not just, “some schmuck owner” (which is also ignorant)… But WHY must this owner be American? What about a Russian owner? Or mid-eastern?

      Are all of those guys the cool kids?

      Only us beer drinkin’, tah-backy spittin’ USofA folks are the schmucks, right?


      I feel sorry for you, IanCK.

      Everyone nowadays is so quick to spew hatred before anything else.

      I would never say, “some English schmuck”. Makes me feel foolish (and a bad case of douche-chills) to say such an ignorant comment.

      Funny how a smart and intelligent businessman makes a great business deal and buys a team, and now all Americans are “schmucks”, as you so elegantly put it.

      Thanks, Ian.

      Cool story, bro.

      1. BJ, it was intended as a sarcastic aside, a nod to Morgan’s ‘An American Apology’. It was not intended to cause any offence hence the winky thing.

        It appears to be a hot topic at the moment, over which there is much furore – hence my attempt to make light of it.

          1. You say that know. Wait until the tricky trees are flattering to deceive again. Like your home shirt immensely sans sponsors logo. Very retro.

        1. Always foiled by “the winky thing”.

          My apologies.

          I’ll own up. My fault.

          Peace and love. Unity. World peace. Rainbows. Double rainbows. Triple rainbows. Unicorns. Pegasus.

          IanCK, I am sorry.

          1. No worries fella. You’ll only find peace and love emanating from SOT. Unless you’re an Arsenal knobber 😉

      2. I believe you have completely misread ICK’s intent.

        Have you not read the previous articles and commentary on team ownership, which referred to both English and American owners as well as other foreigners? ICK was obviously referencing all of that and poking fun at it.

        You do know what this little guy means, don’t you? 😉

        Ease up.

  6. A good article with some well made points. However, that horse left the barn a long time ago. Is a rent-a-center more ethical than a betting shop? Questions, questions.

    Of course, here in the U.S. we do not have these problems because gambling is illegal….well, except in Nevada and New Jersey…and at race tracks…and on Native American reservations…and on various riverboats and barges…and state lotteries…and…never mind.

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