Goals changing for betting companies in soccer sponsorship
The close links between betting and sport mean that sponsorship of teams and leagues has long been a popular strategy for companies in the gambling sector but, as brand awareness has grown and the online element has taken on increased significance, the relationships have become more sophisticated as the sponsors seek to establish a long-term connection with fans.
In many European markets it is now difficult to attend or watch television coverage of a sporting event without being exposed to messaging from betting firms, which seek to enhance the experience by encouraging the spectator or viewer to place a wager on an outcome, whether it be the final score or one of the multitude of other options now available.
This is especially the case in the UK, one of the largest gambling markets in Europe, where an estimated 40 per cent of the total income of gaming companies comes from bets placed on sporting events.
While betting shops remain a staple of the high street in the UK, the most significant growth has been in online sports betting, which accounted for more than 50 per cent of the country’s £2-billion online gambling market in 2012, according to research conducted by digital marketing agency Stickyeyes.
Although horse racing, a sport highly dependent on betting, continues to account for the largest share of expenditure in the UK, soccer has made the biggest gains in recent years, with total spending climbing by 69 per cent, from £355 million in 2009-10 to £600 million in 2011-12.
This has been fuelled in large part by growth in the online sector, notably in-play betting, as odds are displayed by betting outlets in stadia, in television advertisements during half-time breaks and on websites on mobile devices.
The financial figures help to explain why betting companies have been so eager to align themselves with leading teams and competitions. In England’s Premier League this season, 18 of the 20 teams have betting and gaming partners, of which three - Dafabet at Aston Villa, Marathonbet at Fulham and Bet365 at Stoke City – are shirt sponsors.
Meanwhile, Sky Bet, the betting arm of British Sky Broadcasting, the UK pay-television operator, has taken over as the title sponsor of the second-tier Football League and William Hill, one of the UK’s leading bookmakers, is a sponsor of the English and Scottish Football Associations and the Scottish Professional Football League.
RATIONALE OF UK BETTING SPONSORS
The betting sponsors in the Premier League range from familiar high street bookmakers such as Paddy Power, the often irreverent Irish firm, which recently signed a threeyear deal with north London giants Arsenal, to dedicated online operators such as 12BET, the stadium sponsor of top-flight newcomers Crystal Palace from the south east of the capital.
For the smaller companies, the Premier League, which is televised worldwide to huge audiences, offers exposure and prestige as they seek to build their brands in an increasingly crowded market.
Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency brandRapport, said: “Initially the betting companies are seeking to create name awareness and recognition. In one of the most competitive industries the initial requirement is to establish your name and to be seen as being a major player in the marketplace. Sponsorship is an ideal medium through which to achieve this.”
Marathonbet, an independent online sports bookmaker, is one example of a brand that has gone into partnership with a Premier League club to build brand awareness, having signed an initial two-year deal with Fulham in July of this year.
The company used to operate in the UK as Panbet, but only on a small scale and had not established a strong presence. Having its logo on the shirts of the west London club will ensure that it is recognised by millions of people in its home market and far beyond.
However, its ambitions do not stop there and it has moved quickly to engage with the club’s fans, and not just through betting promotions, offering free coach travel and other benefits to those who travelled to the first game of the season at Sunderland.
Weronika Abramowicz, head of sponsorship and business development at Fulham, said: “Marathonbet’s objective is to create a brand personality based on trust and credibility. They don’t want to be seen as just another betting brand, but a brand that understands the most about sport. They want to tell fans that they understand what they go through and haven’t done anything just to make people sign up.”
Such is the appeal of betting to soccer clubs and the opportunities associated with it that many now have more than one partner from this sector, often focused on the Asian market, where the Premier League has a huge following. Major players include SBOBet, the former shirt sponsor of West Ham United, which maintains a relationship with the east London club and four other Premier League teams.
Currie said: “There is clearly a big betting culture in Asia and because of the relatively small size of the UK market, Asia is a natural target for the global betting companies’ expansion and growth plans.”
NEW STRATEGY FOR BWIN IN EUROPEAN MARKET
In continental Europe, gambling is less prevalent and often more highly regulated than in the UK and Asia, meaning that there are comparatively fewer sponsorship deals with commercial betting companies.
A notable exception has been that between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Bwin, the Gibraltar-based online gambling company, which was until this season the club’s shirt sponsor in a deal valued at €23 million ($30 million) per year.
There was cachet in being associated with one of the world’s best-known clubs but the partnership was not without its drawbacks as Real Madrid were often forced to play with unbranded shirts in European ties because of laws in certain countries banning the advertising of betting companies.
In addition, Bwin faced a legal challenge from Codere, the Spanish betting firm, which sought to have its lucrative deal cancelled on the grounds of unfair competition as Bwin was being allowed to carry out advertising and promotion in Spain whereas onshore gambling operations were restricted. Bwin has now been succeeded by Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, as Real Madrid’s shirt sponsor although the betting company has stayed on in a lesser capacity as the club’s official online gaming and betting partner.
This forms part of a new strategy at Bwin under which the firm has walked away from major sponsorship deals with a small number of leading clubs and its title sponsorship of Italy’s Serie B (which has now passed to Eurobet) in order to work with various partners, creating digital partnerships and engaging with fans through mobile and social platforms.
In addition to Real Madrid, Bwin now has second-tier deals with several highprofile clubs, including Manchester United of England, Juventus of Italy, Marseille of France and Anderlecht of Belgium.
Currie believes this is a natural progression, saying: “Once a betting brand has established a strong degree of name awareness and recognition, the objectives will move towards client acquisition and retention.
“This involves different marketing disciplines and by giving up the title sponsorship of a club such as Real Madrid a lot of money can be saved, especially if the brand then takes on some form of secondary sponsorship involvement with the club. It will then have freed up some marketing spend to concentrate on attracting new customers perhaps through the club’s fanbase.”