I doubt that I will get a reply but here is my farewell to Watford: Taking online betting money is not in line with the values and principles of Watford FC.
Saturday 15 June
Head of Communications & Media Relations
Dear Mr. Walker,
Late on Friday 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.
Sportsbet.io is owned and operated by mBet Solutions and regulated by the Government of Curaçao under the gaming license 1668/JAZ.
My reaction on twitter was strong: “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 volley of abuse from Watford fans – I will not bore you with it – most people copied their comments to your official twitter account so you can always enjoy them there.
It was chastening to see Watford supporters so dismissive and abusive of diverse opinions. Last night was quite an education. The silence from your official account was also telling.
I am clearly not alone in expressing concern over this ill-considered sponsorship deal. The comments under both your twitter and Facebook announcements mostly disapprove of the deal.
The concern is simple. That this deal is not in line with the values on which this club has grown.
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.
I acknowledge that The Gambling Commission has launched a three-year strategy to cut gambling-related harm. Their 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. GVC has also called for an end to all UK sports-betting broadcast advertising, at any time of the day, on live and repeated sporting events.
That should have sent a message to Premier League clubs and club administrators – it did not.
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 Sir Elton John 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.” But 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 shirts and billboards and on tv in live games and highlights.
There are questions that I think the club should consider a public response to:
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. Have we now become a club where money matters over everything; more than the principles and integrity on which the club grew?
I inherited Watford from my Dad who was on the terraces when the club were still “The Blues.” 1970 was my first visit to Vicarage Road – but after 49 years I think that is enough. I will look out for the club’s results. But after this deal – and the abuse I received for questioning it – it is farewell Watford FC – I really have, at last, stopped caring.
There is plenty of online reading about the risks of gambling addiction. Two short articles summarise some of that data.
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
Good luck in 2019/2020.