Like many football fans in the UK, I like to have a bet on the football every weekend and most mid-weeks; nothing too serious, I fiver on an accumulator and a daft 50p toilet roll (definition: a ridiculous number of selections creating a betting receipt so long it resembles a toilet roll, and which has 0.01% of actually winning). As a Rovers fan there are certain games in a season when I really should make some money by betting against them – a defeat to Fulham away this past weekend being one of them, along with former Rover Tom Cairney getting a goal. However, betting in football is massive business now.
Take the European Super Cup for example, half an hour before kick off and the Betfair Exchange was showing that over £2.4m had been staked just on the outcome of that one game (that doesn’t include the hundreds of other markets available). It’s no wonder that every time there is a football match on the TV, whether it be the Champions League or League Two on Sky Sports, or the FA Cup on ITV, you are likely to be inundated with adverts for betting and latest odds, with Ray Winston inviting you to “have a bang on that”.
The integration of betting into football is nowhere more evident than at Stoke City – a club owned by betting company Bet365. In 2017-18, Bet365 took £52.6bn in bets from punters and won a net profit £2.7bn – with profits up a handsome 28% (£660.6m) on the previous year. Denise Coates, the daughter of Stoke City Chairman Peter Coates, is the founder and joint chief executive of Bet365 paid herself £265m in the same period. She owns a 50.25% in Bet365.
The Premier League and Football League have strict rules on betting which the likes of Joey Barton and Barry Fry among others have fallen foul over in recent years – if you are involved in football, from player to manager, to club shop assistant, you are forbidden from betting. No problem there – footballers and managers are in the perfect position to influence games for positive betting outcomes.
For the football fans, betting companies advertise “when the fun stops, stop” – but what does that really mean? In simple terms it means these multi-billion-pound companies only want you to use their services to have fun, and even simpler, only bet what you can afford. Seems like a strange, somewhat backwards, business plan to advertise that companies don’t want you to spend as much money as possible, and more, with them. It is no surprise, but it is a concern and a contradiction of their campaigns, that if you have money sat untouched in online accounts with bookies, the vast majority will drop you notifications, emails and texts to remind you the money is there for you to use for a bet. With football on almost every night of the year, there is always something to tempt you back in – is there really any fun in betting on the Albanian 1st Division and watching an arrow on a 2D pitch hoping for betting to be suspended and “GOAL” to flash up on screen (only to be ruled out by VAR). As someone with betting accounts with the majority of bookies, there isn’t a day (or morning and afternoon in some instances) when I don’t receive an email telling me of sports, odds and offers. The “when the fun stops, stop” campaign is a façade for me – a media campaign aimed at everyone seeing a bright yellow logo and Jeff Stelling reading it aloud telling everyone how concerned betting companies are is nothing short of yet another advertising campaign intended to promote the markets on offer.
Huddersfield Town and Paddy Power tried something different with the launch of their new shirt and sponsor for this season – completely redefining their striped shirt with a sash across the front emblazoned “Paddy Power”. There was uproar from Town fans and laughter from fans of other clubs, but I think deep down most fans with a knowledge of the history of Paddy Powers stunts knew this could just be an elaborate marketing campaign, which is what in the end it turned out to be. Paddy Powers insistence that the stunt was to launch their “Save Our Shirt Campaign”, similar to the “when the fun stops, stop” slogan is another example of betting companies doing anything to advertise themselves. It’s all well and good a team recently relegated from the richest league in the world and soon to receive parachute payments, telling poor clubs on the verge of bankruptcy that they really shouldn’t advertise on the front of their shirts, betting or any company, but shirt sponsors bring in much needed revenue as you drop down the leagues. Then look at it from the sponsors point of view, are you really going to pay to sponsor a team and then not have your product name or logo emblazoned on the front of their shirts? It would literally be like throwing money on the fire as no-one would know that you’d done it. Case in point, can you name any other team or sponsor involved in the “Save our shirt campaign”?
The fact Huddersfield have been fined by the Football League for misconduct for the stunt is another hypocritical action – a football league, who sell the advertising rights between televised games and TV programmes to whichever betting company bids the highest, and who’s bottom 3 divisions are actually sponsored by a betting company linked to the organisation which shows the games, fining a club for misconduct for being sponsored by a betting company. Double standards indeed.
On the topic of Skybet and Sky Sports, when transfer deadline day rolls around, is it okay that Sky Sports News can claim to have heard rumours, or have it on good authority, that player ‘x’ is interested in joining club ‘y’, or club ‘y’ is readying a bid for player ‘x’ – and then provide the platform and odds to bet on that occurring, via Skybet? Surely that is a massive conflict of interest, designed to encourage football fans to bet on markets and outcomes that were never really a reality. Was Dybala really 1/7 close to signing for Spurs as was reported on channel 409, only for it to fall through? I highly doubt it.
Looking back at Stoke City, hypothetically, if players and managers aren’t allowed to bet on football because of their ability to affect the outcome, surely the club being owned by a betting company is just as big a conflict of interest – can they not influence a manager and players to affect the outcome of a game to give them a positive result in the betting market? If there was the chance they could make over £1m in just 90 minutes, surely any business would be interested in those sorts of returns. Yet it is allowed by the same football league which takes Umbridge with a club taking part in a media stunt to advertised to draw attention to both their new shirt, and their new betting partner.
Football is walking a tight rope at the minute by selling both league advertising rights and TV advertising rights to betting companies, but then expecting the players who sell the football product not to get involved, despite betting being rammed down their throats and emblazoned on their shirts at every opportunity. Likewise, the number of clubs let down by the FA from a custodian point of view grows, the authorities need to be careful where they draw the line between acceptable sponsorship and advertising for football teams with betting companies, and what is too far, without sentencing smaller clubs to death by removing that revenue stream.
As for me, I’ll continue to have my serious fiver and my 50p toilet roll every week – but the signs for a profitable season do not look good; my season long bet for their to be at least one goal in every Wolves game this season lasted just 90 goalless minutes.