Goals chang­ing for bet­ting com­pa­nies in soc­cer spon­sor­ship

Sportcal - - SPON­SOR­SHIP FEA­TURE - By Si­mon Ward and Krzysztof Kropiel­nicki

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.


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.”


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.”

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