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Western Sydney Wanderers announced this week that they had signed a partnership with the Office of Responsible Gambling that would see New South Wales club say no to sports betting sponsorship.
In doing so, the club became the first Hyundai A-League side to commit to turn down all sponsorship and advertising with gambling firms as part of the ‘Reclaim the Game’ initiative.
This isn’t just a PR stunt. Over $270 million was spent on gambling advertising in Australia in 2018, so the club’s decision will undoubtedly have a serious impact on their potential commercial revenue.
Clubs are so often accused of thinking with their pockets first, and fans second, but here the Wanderers have shown real leadership and a dedication to putting the needs and concerns of their community despite the obvious commercial repercussions.
There’s increasing speculation that clubs in the UK could be soon be following suit, with the Government considering a ban on gambling sponsorship in the beautiful game as part of a wider parliamentary action.
Gambling has become intrinsically linked with the beautiful game.
Whether it’s endless adverts throughout broadcasts, plastered across pitch side ad boards or emblazoned across football kits, it has become almost impossible to enjoy a game of football without encountering an element of sports gambling.
And they pay a lot of money for that privilege.
8 English Premier League and around 2/3rds of Championship sides currently have a betting company as their main sponsor, and if they were to follow Western Sydney Warriors’ lead, be that by their own volition or not, they could face losing out on to £110million in commercial income.
While Premier League clubs will always be able to attract sponsors from around the globe, there are fears amongst the EFL, who released a statement condemning the ban, that this could provide a crippling blow to clubs in the second, third and fourth tiers, especially in the wake of the financial strains of pandemic.
There’s no denying that there would be an impact, but the sports industry has survived the impact of the loss of other controversial sponsors before, with the outright banning of tobacco sponsorship in 2005 and the controversies surrounding payday loan companies in the 2010s.
With the growing concerns around both betting and alcohol sponsorship, it is clear that change is coming and clubs need to prepare for it.
However, with all challenges come new opportunities.
The move away from these sponsors presents clubs with new opportunities to engage with good causes, education establishments or perhaps return to working with local businesses, all of whom could benefit far more from the platform a professional football club can provide.
For example, this season Championship club Swansea City have swapped their sponsorship with gambling company YoBet for the University of Swansea, whereas Scottish Premiership side Hibernian used their shirt sponsor slot to promote local NHS charity Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation.
The impacts of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have shown cracks in the way the football business is run, and the next few years will undoubtedly bring a tidal wave of change that will wash over the sport.
The world is changing, and so to are the habits and demands of the football supporter, and football has to move with the times to meet the demands of an ever-expanding global market.Western Sydney Warrior must be applauded for leading the way, reflecting the changing habits and concerns of their community and using their platform to educate and raise awareness for an important cause.