As the richest and one of the most watched leagues in world sport, it’s unsurprising that the English Premier League has long attracted huge advertising and sponsorship deals. Whether it’s major global brands or up-and-coming tech companies, the Premier League is one of the most valuable vehicles for brand marketing.
However, an incoming ban looks set to limit the extent to which gambling firms can sponsor Premier League clubs. Given the close relationship between sport and gambling, this news has been met with mixed reactions. Let’s take a closer look at the ban and discuss what it means for sports marketing as we head into the future.
The relationship between football and the gambling industry started ramping up in the 1990s. Now, gambling ads can be seen everywhere from team shirts to pitch-side billboards, and halftime advertising breaks are often wall-to-wall gambling ads.
The relationship, while lucrative, has proved tumultuous. Campaign groups have been increasingly critical of the gambling sector’s involvement in football, and the pressure eventually led to a government review of the 2005 Gambling Act earlier this year.
In anticipation of the review, the Premier League moved ahead with a ban on gambling sponsorship after a meeting held with representatives in April 2023. Some argued that this was a pre-emptive move designed to soften the blow of the impending review, but regardless, the outcome means gambling companies will no longer be front and centre on Premier League shirts.
How Will the Ban be Implemented?
The word ‘ban’ makes us think of blanket, uncompromising prohibition. However, in the case of the Premier League gambling ban, this isn’t strictly the case.
After the April meeting, the Premier League decided to move ahead with a complete ban on all front-of-shirt gambling sponsorship deals. However, this means there are still options for gambling firms looking to market their brands through the Premier League. They can still opt for things like shorts, back of shirts, sleeves, and pitch-side advertising spots.
As things stand, the ban looks set to come into force for the kick-off of the 2026/2027 season. Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brentford, Burnley, Everton, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and West Ham United all currently have gambling companies as front-of-shirt sponsors, so these clubs will need to take action and renegotiate sponsorship deals before the ban is implemented.
What Does this Mean for Sponsorships Moving Forward?
The Premier League attracts colossal audience figures, with viewers from every corner of the globe. Front-of-shirt sponsorships are incredibly lucrative. A business with its logo emblazoned on the front of a Premier League team’s shirt will be able to reach massive audiences across the world.
The loss of front-of-shirt sponsorship options will come as a blow to business and to football clubs, many of which rely on the revenue from these deals.
Gambling firms will still be able to advertise on sleeves and pitch side boards, but these options are deemed less optimal when compared to front-of-shirt sponsorships. When you think of classic football tops from years gone by, the sponsor is often inextricably linked with those memories. This is invaluable for the brand in question and can create deep, meaningful customer connections.
The ban will effectively create a gap in the market. There will be a void once filled by gambling companies, and it will be interesting to see what industry steps in to take its place.
It’s unlikely we’ll see many huge brands make the move, as they generally do not require the exposure Premier League sponsorship can offer. Instead, there will be an opportunity for smaller emerging companies to secure potentially lucrative partnership deals.
Other than gambling, the financial sector is the most widely represented in terms of front-of-shirt Premier League sponsorships. With gambling firms effectively out of the picture, we could see more financial service companies step up to fill this gap in the market.
How Will This Affect Sports Marketing in the Future?
Sports marketing is big business. We only need to look at recent deals struck between clubs like Barcelona and huge brands like Spotify as examples. The gambling industry has enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Premier League, but this looks all but set to come to an end.
Sport, football in particular, appeals to a broad demographic, but the largest audience segment by a significant percentage is young males. Coincidentally or not, this is also the same demographic that suffers the most from gambling-related harm.
What this ban indicates is that sporting organisations and regulatory bodies are taking sponsorship and advertising more seriously. The effects that marketing can have on audiences are still being studied and understood, and we could see further restrictions put into place in the future.
For brands and marketing agencies looking to work and partner with sports clubs and organisations, this means these partnerships will require more thought and consideration. Sponsorships must be aligned with demographics and target audiences, not just in terms of reach and exposure, but with ideas of safety and harm reduction in mind as well.
This doesn’t just apply to front-of-shirt sponsorships either. We’ve also seen restrictions put in place when it comes to gambling firms using athletes and figures who could appeal to young fans as brand ambassadors. Given how crucial brand ambassadors and influencers are for modern-day marketing methods, this is changing the way in which brands can approach these kinds of deals.
While many expected some form of regulation for Premier League gambling advertising, the ban has still come as something of a shock. It looks set to change the face of Premier League sponsorship, and the most well-represented industry will soon make way for a new dominant sector.
For brands and marketing agencies, this will create a gap in the market and there will be a golden opportunity for new companies to step in. However, this approach must be handled with care and consideration, as there is more scrutiny than ever on sports-related sponsorships and the effect these can have on the millions of young fans who follow their favourite teams and athletes.