Time to fret as soccer is turning into essentially the most profitable sport within the gambling business

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When I went to my first soccer game at the age of six, the dominant sensory experiences were the vivid but sponsor-free blue and red stripes of the players, the intoxicating aroma of tobacco, and the lively sound of an adult audience choiring the "na-na-na, na "refrain from Hey Jude.

Other than the fading color of some of the billboards, there was a lack of commercial news. With a view to the program of this game, which together with the crackling Tannoy represented the media dimension for the "Match Day experience", there were advertisements for a dry cleaning, a paint shop and the local fair.

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Gambling was limited to a Willy Wonka-style Golden Goal competition in which the £ 130 prize money was split between tickets where the times matched the ball on the net. Then there was the vague hope for riches from a pool voucher, which was ritually filled in with a series of Xs earlier this week.

The modern young fan experiences the sport differently. When he / she sees games on Sky, he / she sees Jeff Stelling endorsing Sky Bet or is prompted to "Bet in game now!" There's no escaping shirts embossed with logos for Betway, BetVictor, LoveBet or ManBetX on the BBC – a study by Goldsmith & # 39; s University last season found that betting logos, either on shirts or on billboard advertising, were between 71 and 89 percent were on screen the time of the day's match.

Lucrative market

When I was a kid, betting was linked to horses. Today football is by far the most lucrative sport in the gaming industry. Gambling in football has increased with the worldwide popularity of the English game and the development of the sports media that serve it.

Younger fans are bursting with tactical knowledge gained from data-rich modern sports coverage. They have built encyclopedic knowledge about players from video games like FIFA and Football Manager. Betting providers know this and are feeding them with increasingly complex products.

Gambling advertising is ubiquitous in football. (Photo by Neville Williams / Aston Villa FC via Getty)

We have come to the point where many younger fans see a boat as essential to the fun of a game. Take James Grimes, who was 16 when he picked up £ 90 from a £ 5 stake on an accumulator. "I remember collecting the money and feeling like I was good at it!" Grimes had an extraordinary ability to read the game – at 17 he was a coach at Sheffield United Academy. But by then he was playing online and was on his way into debt of £ 100,000 which ruined his career.

He blames the ads: "If someone tells you that the game is" more important when there is money on it, "it sticks in your head."

Grimes, 30, runs the Big Step campaign for Gambling With Lives, a charity founded by the bereaved families of gambling addicts. If he had been born earlier, things might have been different. "Traditional forms of gambling like the pools didn't have the same addiction. I wasn't born an addict, but my favorite sport sold me bets around the clock. There are hundreds of thousands with a similar story."

A government review of sports betting will be completed in March. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the gambling sector was "developing rapidly" and Sports Secretary Nigel Huddleston said we had to "drag our legal framework into the digital age". A House of Lords committee recommended in July banning displays of bets "in or near" sports venues, including sports programs.

A study of football shirt sponsorship last week found that the Premier League has a stronger relationship with gambling than any of the best leagues in the world. The sponsorship of competition brand shirts rose from zero to 50 percent of the teams between 2000 and 2020. There is almost no such thing in the German Bundesliga. Simon Chadwick, a professor at Emlyon Business School in France, expects a ban in the European Union, but not in the UK. “Some fans see it as an integral part of the game day experience, and gambling is a significant source of income for the treasury. You may see public health news, but I don't envisage a ban. "

Pressure to cut ties

The clubs will claim that they cannot withstand the financial losses. The same was true of tobacco sponsorship, an eerie presence in my youth when it was ubiquitous in Formula 1, snooker, and cricket. Many global brands want their names on Premier League jerseys.

Gambling advertising is just as present in stadiums as it used to be tobacco advertising (Photo: Peter Cziborra / PA)

For a game that markets itself as a social force for the good and supports causes like the anti-racist Kick-It-Out campaign and the Heads Together mental health charity, it is extraordinary that football should play an important role for betting companies.

“Sports teams, star players and even broadcasters have branding strategies that signal their commitment to important social causes,” says Richard Gillis, founder of the Unofficial Partner podcast for the sports business. "But does it undermine their credibility if they do this while promoting gambling and taking money from betting companies?"