Betting: Sky boss argues against TV match ad ban, Luton Town reject bookies’ money

By Paul Nicholson

December 11 – The debate over gambling ads in the UK has intensified with League One side Luton Town saying it has rejected sponsorship from betting companies while Sky CEO Stephen van Rooyen (pictured) has argued that banning gambling ads from being broadcast during matches will only drive that marketing spend online.

Britain’s leading betting firms have agreed to a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on advertising during live TV coverage of football matches and other sports – a move that is expected to be signed off at a meeting of five major gambling industry associations this week.

Gambling ads are all pervasive in British football media and are the dominant sponsorship sector within clubs. Nine out of 20 teams in the Premier League and 17 of 24 in the Championship division have betting firms advertising on their club shirts this season. Sky Bet sponsors all three of the EFL’s divisions.

But Luton Town, who reckon they would earn £100,000 a season in sponsorship from the sector (their total sponsorship earnings are about £500,000 of an £8 million annual club turnover), have put the morality of protecting young fan from pro-gambling messages before the money.

Luton Town CEO Gary Sweet says that the decision was taken at board level, arguing that children aged 11 to 16 are the most likely to buy club replica shirts. “That’s the most impressionable age when you remember the sponsor. When I was growing up at that age, I remember the dates when the sponsorships changed – that’s our major concern,” he said.

Sky’s van Rooyen says that gambling banning ads during live matches will only lead to the broadcast media spend shifting online and would not stem the issues of problem gambling activity.

A GambleAware report noted that TV accounts for only 15% of gambling operators’ marketing budgets, while 80% is spent on digital and social media channels, which van Rooyen says is “largely unregulated.”

“The irony is that TV advertising is already highly regulated, with rules around exposing inappropriate advertising to minors and limiting when and how often gambling ads can be seen. This is not the case online. If the RGA (Remote Gambling Association) plan is implemented, then spend would simply shift even further online, with smartphones, tablets and computers targeted with even greater precision. This doesn’t feel like a good outcome for anyone except gambling firms and online tech platforms; the same platforms who by avoiding their tax commitments deny government the funds that society needs.”

Sky has recently limited gambling ads to one per commercial break and the use of AdSmart technology enables viewers to block all gambling advertising.

The impact on broadcast revenues is obvious and that may long term impact on what broadcasters are prepared to pay for rights in the UK, but the pressure to bring some form of a curb on gambling ads is strong both from government and public pressure groups.

The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has had an increasingly active role to regulating digital ads that it says are “subject to the same strict regulations as broadcast advertising.” It has on a number occasions ordered advertisers to change their ad messages.

The real message in this debate and one that it would be unwise to bet against, is that there will be a change in the advertising revenue structure targeting football and the game and its core stakeholders are increasingly looking like they will be the ones to miss out at the bookies.

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