Why Watford’s new betting sponsorship is wrong

sportsbet.io screenshot 15/62019

Late yesterday afternoon Watford FC announced their new shirt sponsor for the 2019 season.

The three year agreement is with Coingaming for its sport betting brand, Sportsbet.io. Sportsbet.io operates a cryptocrurrency sports-gambling book and casino.

For those wanting a little more detail Sportsbet.io is owned and operated by mBet Solutions NV (Heelsumstraat 51 E-Commerce Park Country Curaçao). It is licensed and regulated by the Government of Curaçao under the gaming license 1668/JAZ.

Its staff appear to be based in Estonia.

The site is powered by the Coingaming.io Bitcoin Sports and Casino Gaming platform, and allows players to play with EUR and Bitcoins. The site is not an exchange and funds can not be converted from euros to bitcoins.

My reaction in twitter was rapid:

“Really disappointed in #watfordfc – a supposed family club promoting a bitcoin based online sports gambling and casino business. Curacao registered. Estonia staffed. And a laughable press release. @WatfordFC – these are not the values of our club. Shameful.”

This led to a torrent of abuse from Watford fans – apparently as I am based in Thailand where apparently torture is commonplace and there are no women police officers my view does not matter.

Typical was “He says after moving to a country where women aren’t allowed in the police force” – not really relevant to the discussion. Or factually accurate.

Some of the comments were much more personal – and of course anonymous – the sort of things that no one would ever say to you directly.

One much more encouraging tweet commented:

“I’m afraid every club has happy clappers who will not tolerate questioning the club. Not all supporters are so.”

Its facts that seem to confuse Watford fans:

One writes: We’ve had online betting companies on our shirts for about 5 years now. Why the sudden outrage?

No we have not – FXPro are a regulated financial services company.

Another commented: “Really if anyone really cares as long as they pay the money everyone now has betting sites sponsoring them can’t wait for new shirts and will wear mine with pride”

Again facts: it is clearly not everyone: while the Premier League and the Football League Championship are dominated by betting sponsors in the Premier League, it’s nine from 20 teams. Far from everyone. The everyone else it why shouldn’t we argument is false. We do not need to all reach for the lowest common denominator.

Here is a favorite: “Well Im disappointed in your post. Nobody actually cares for your opinion. It will generate millions for the club which is massive. We could be sponsored by Birdseye and i still wouldnt give a monkeys. We have the best people in charge who care for the club. Please follow suit.”

I am not sure what he has against BirdEye – I do not think fish fingers are addictive.

Facts: the new sponsorship will generate maybe gbp7million a year. Double the FXPro sponsorship from last year. But it is not “massive.” It is petty cash compared to the gbp100 million plus from global and uk tv rights. And the shirts form a very visible part of the club brand.

One so called Watford fan, anonymous of course, seemed more interested in Thai ladyboys than the merits or otherwise of gambling sponsorship.

There were too many Watford supporters sadly intolerant of diverse opinions. Last night was quite an education.

Facts again: A total of £14.4bn was lost by people betting in the UK from April 2017 to March 2018, according to figures produced by the Gambling Commission, an increase from £13.8bn the previous year. Of that total, £5.3bn was lost gambling online, a 12.8% increase on the previous year.

There is evidence that gambling is becoming ever more normalised, particularly among young people, so that increasingly betting is seen as part and parcel of following and supporting one’s favourite sport or team.

Many people think gambling is now out of control in Britain which has the most liberal online gambling regulations of any European country.

Marc Etches, the chief executive of GambleAware, says: “We have a generation of fans who believe you have to bet on football to enjoy it.” In the minds of many fans, especially young men, gambling and football are inseparable. The result is that nearly half a million people – 430,000 – are thought to be problem gamblers, with another 2 million at risk of heading that way, according to the Gambling Commission.

The Gambling Commission has launched a three-year strategy to cut gambling-related harm. The national strategy focuses on prevention, education and treatment and support for problem gamblers.

Ahead of the announcement, two UK betting giants said they would change how they advertise as part of their attempts to deal with the problem.

GVC, which owns Ladbrokes, Coral and Gala, and William Hill say they are stopping football shirt sponsorship. GVC is also stopping perimeter adverts.

That should have sent a message to Premier League clubs and administrators – it did not.

GVC has called for an end to all UK sports-betting broadcast advertising, at any time of the day, on live and repeated sporting events.

Up the road at the club watford fans love to hate – Luton Town FC – the chief executive Gary Sweet has refused more than £500,000 from gambling companies as the club “do not feel comfortable” being sponsored by them.

“We don’t want to promote excessive gambling behaviour through our support base and our players,” Sweet said.

“I don’t think I’m going to be fired because I’m turning down that kind of income from our board, because together we all think and believe the same things as part of our principles.”

How sad that the original family club has no such principles. The honorary Life President of Watford is Sir Elton John – no stranger to the dangers of addiction. One reviewer of his biopic ‘Rocketman’ noted that “what stands out for me is its brutally honest look at how addiction can take down anyone — even a multi-millionaire superstar like Sir Elton John. His story is the same as mine, and of millions of others who have suffered from addiction.”

I wonder how he feels about gambling sponsorships?

The point is that there are always alternatives. One twitter user (anonymous of course) told me to “Grow Up. It is business.”

There is good and bad business. There is ethical and unethical business.

Cigarette sponsorship is banned. Alcohol sponsorship is apparently not banned officially but is clearly avoided by sports teams. Pharma advertising does not happen in sports.

The problem is that shirt advertising is all about visibility – at the ground – on tv – in live games and highlights.

The questions for Watford FC are:

What alternatives were considered? What non-gambling businesses were discussions held with? If other offers were made how much were they for? Did we simply accept the highest bid.

What due diligence was done on sportsbet.io? It is a three year old company. Can they meet their financial commitment?

Watford has always taken pride in being something different. A pioneer in family values. A family stand. The Community trust. A bond between the town and the team.

This new deal does not reflect those values. We have become a team where money matters over everything; more than the principles and integrity on which the club grew.

So after 49 years – 1970 was my first visit to Vicarage Road – I think that is enough. I will look out for the club’s results. But after this deal – and the torrent of abuse I received for questioning it – it is farewell Watford FC – I really have, at last, stopped caring.

Revealed: the ‘dire consequences’ of football’s relationship with gambling
 The Guardian January 2019

Football is addicted to gambling – and it’s harming children The Guardian February 2019



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