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  • Sky Bet swallows 50% rights increase to secure five-year EFL extension

Sky Bet has signed a five-year extension with the English Football League (EFL) to remain as the league’s title partner until the end of the 2028/29 season.

The record deal, which represents a 50% increase in new rights fees for Sky Bet, builds on an existing decade-long partnership between the two parties.

The deal will also see Flutter-owned Sky Bet invest £1m per season and £6m in total into a Community Fund held by the EFL to be invested into local communities.

The charitable initiatives in focus are still to be mutually agreed by both organisations.

According to Sky Bet parent operator Flutter Entertainment, the renewal includes a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on how to deliver objectives in a socially responsible manner.

For example, Sky Bet will not actively market themselves or their products in family areas of club stadiums or advertise to young fans.

The EFL will also dedicate a proportion of its central inventory to promote safer gambling messaging and support Sky Bet’s safer gambling campaigns.

On this topic, Sky Bet has committed to funding a player education programme across the EFL’s 72 clubs that will focus on the potential dangers of gambling.

The media spotlight is firmly focused on the gambling industry’s close relationship with football after Brentford striker Ivan Toney was handed an eight-month ban from the sport for a series of historical betting violations.

“The government’s recent gambling white paper highlighted the social responsibility measures that have accompanied our partnership as being an example of good practice for the wider sports sector to learn from.”
EFL CEO Trevor Birch

Premier League clubs have voluntarily voted to phase out front-of-shirt gambling sponsorships. The ban will apply from the start of the 2026/27 season.

The EFL, which covers English football’s second (Championship), third (League One) and fourth (League Two) tiers, has taken a different approach.

Sky Bet CCO Steve Birch said: “Football is central to who we are and it’s great to be able to support the game and provide investment for clubs across the pyramid.

“As the recent Sky Bet play-off finals demonstrated, the EFL is going from strength to strength with packed grounds and millions watching games here in the UK and around the world.”

Birch said the company was “absolutely committed” to safer gambling, adding the partnership would showcase how operators and organisations can work together to tackle gambling harm.

As part of the agreement, Sky Bet will also have the rights to award the official Manager, Player and Goal of the Month awards, as well as seasonal awards for each division.

EFL CEO Trevor Birch said Sky Bet had been a valuable commercial partner for more than a decade by offering clubs investment to help navigate a “volatile financial landscape”.

“The government’s recent gambling white paper highlighted the social responsibility measures that have accompanied our partnership as being an example of good practice for the wider sports sector to learn from.

“We will look to deepen our commitment to the promotion of safer gambling as part of this extension,” he added.

The Beautiful Gam(bl)e

Hot on the heels of Brentford striker Ivan Toney’s eight month ban from professional football for betting offences, The Athletic this week brought us a special report on “the extent of gambling’s grip on football dressing rooms.”

In the article, Wigan Athletic centre back Steven Caulker suggested that “every club has boys playing poker in the back of a bus or plane to an away game, betting £100 or £200,” in an attempt to demonstrate how widespread gambling has become among professional footballers.

Football pros gamble often in both land-based and online casinos, Caulker said, while the article also shed light on professional footballers’ “obsession” with horse racing, open betting on football matches, and their use of gambling as a form of escape from the pressures of the job.

While a blanket ban on football betting has been in place for professional players since 2014, they are still allowed to place bets on any other sports and visit casinos.

Throughout the piece, Caulker tells of his own battle with gambling addiction, starting out visiting high street bookmakers as a teenager while at Spurs’ academy.

At the age of just 19, he went to the Sporting Chance Clinic to seek rehabilitation for his addiction, but left after a week.

“The naivety of me thought I could be cured — that is not the case,” he said. 

“When I was around 22, at QPR, I lost £250,000 in one night. The casinos told Les Ferdinand (the club’s director of football) I was gambling way out of my depth.”

The behaviour was not “just a bad habit,” he insisted, “it was life threatening.”

Caulker’s former teammate Nedum Onuoha went on to suggest that older footballers must take part of the blame for passing on harmful gambling habits to their younger colleagues, saying “they are supposed to be role models.”

Gambling can quickly become part of a club’s culture, he added, putting younger players at serious risk of harm.

And the piece does not just focus on top-flight players. Those as far down as English football’s sixth tier tell all to The Athletic about the culture of gambling surrounding the sport.

As people continue to weigh in on Toney’s betting behaviour, this article provides an important reminder that professional footballers are no less susceptible to gambling harm than anyone else.

In fact, with a culture of gambling surrounding the sport at all times, they could be at more risk than most.

A straight Schuetz-er

Gambling industry veteran Richard Schuetz penned a piece in Sports Handle this week, offering his two cents on a recent ‘hit piece’ on the sector in the New York Times.

In fact for Schuetz, the Times’ ‘Risky Wager’ serious “was no hit piece” at all, but rather an accurate reflection of the genuine anxieties which surround the industry.

Schuetz’s article opens with a heartfelt tribute to Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered on the island in 2017 after a career spent fearlessly exposing abuses of power and corruption.

Schuetz goes on to pay tribute to the variety of “brave and important” reporters and journalists working tirelessly to bring corruption and dishonesty – not least within the gambling industry – to light.

From the outing of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct, to the corruption taking place within regulatory bodies in various places all over the world, Schuetz proclaims that “a free press is one of the most important assets that the gaming industry has. 

“It allows the public to know and understand important details about the industry. It should be respected. Moreover, gaming is a regulated industry, and if one studies regulated industries, one will find that an engaged press is a tool to guard against regulatory capture.”

That’s why, he suggested, the New York Times’ Risky Wager series – which addressed the “newly developing betting and gaming scene in the US” – was not “indicative of a biased press putting out a hit piece on a victimised gaming industry,” as many tried to claim at the time.

Rather, “most complaints about the articles come from people who would benefit from the status quo,” and while the articles may not have been perfect, the points addressed in them continue to be of high importance to the industry, regulators, the press and the public alike.

The reality is that “many people are uncomfortable with gaming” and “generally dislike the constant barrage of advertising in new betting markets, much of it being broadcast in the presence of children,” Schuetz argues.

He says that rather than play the victim in the face of critical press coverage, it’s time for the industry to “start working to solve … [the] challenges that stand before us all.”

After all, people are right to be concerned about an industry which “moves at lightning speed,” especially in the burgeoning US market.

A better way to assuage those concerns is likely to come from working with the press, not against it.

Regulation required for Africa

Another gambling report from The Guardian this week shed a light on the “regulatory void” of lucrative African markets being “exploited” by gambling firms.

Sub-Saharan Africa, the piece argues, is “fertile ground for western companies seeking an army of new punters,” but also brings with it the potential for devastating consequences.

One such example is a mother in Malawi whose 16-year old son took his own life after being chased for outstanding debts resulting from a daily gambling habit.

Researchers from the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit conluded, along with the boy’s mother, that “if it weren’t for betting, he would still be alive.”

This tragic story is one result of the rapid growth of gambling seen in Malawi since 2015, the piece argues, in a situation mirrored across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Companies there are using “exploitative practicies,” according to University of Zimbabwe lecturer Manase Chiweshe, as governments across the region are struggling to keep up with the proliferation of online gambling.

Indeed, according to a study released earlier this year by the universities of Ghana, Bath and Glasgow, gambling firms are able to take advantage of “a regulatory void surrounding online forms of gambling and the promotion of gambling products” in Africa.

Online gambling revenue across the continent is expected to almost double between 2020 and 2023, to $1.62bn, as gambling advertising has become “pervasive across all forms of media.”

Meanwhile, as much as 40% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line, and unemployment among young people is rife.

Gambling is therefore seen as a source of income for many looking to escape the cycle of poverty, while gambling harms and health problems go largely ignored.

To remedy the situation, tougher regulations are required across the continent as a matter of urgency.

Or better still, operators could do everything in their power to ensure they act responsibly right across the globe.

Footballers boast more disposable income than just about any other group on the planet, except for maybe Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes.

That suggests we probably shouldn’t feel sorry for them – especially when most of us are struggling to navigate a cost-of-living crisis – but I’ll confess that I sometimes do.

Their obscene wealth, combined with an extraordinary amount of spare time on their hands (training usually finishes at 2pm), means they often try to spend the boredom away.

A TikTok video reliably informs me that record-breaking goal robot Erling Haaland has forked out almost two million quid on luxury watches at the tender age of 22.

Some like to collect supercars, trainers, and tattoos, while others prefer rental properties and racehorses.

It’s their money, and they can do what they want with it – except bet.

This brings me to the news that Brentford and England hotshot Ivan Toney has been banned from the sport for eight months.

His crime? Admitting to 232 betting breaches between 2017 and 2021.

In 2014, a worldwide ban on betting on football came into force for everyone involved in the professional game, from Premier League superstars to Isthmian league groundsmen.

The reasons are simple; to protect the integrity of the sport, to prevent profiteering from insider information and to thwart match-fixing.

To keep the beautiful game beautiful, basically.

Some of the commentary surrounding Toney’s ban has sought to point out the hypocrisy of football, which has been known to grab gambling dollars wherever it can.

It does this through competition naming rights, pitchside advertising hoardings, shirt sponsorships, data collection – you name it. The list goes on.

It has sought to dial back its reliance on gambling recently, however, as demonstrated by the voluntary front-of-shirt sponsorship ban on gambling brands, which won’t begin until the the 2026/27 season.

The FA, which is domestic football’s governing body in England, has also scrapped its commercial contracts with gambling companies over the last few years.

But the saturation remains, and rightly or wrongly, it is everywhere you look on match days.

I am not the first person to point out that Toney plays for a club bankrolled by a gambling company (Smartodds) and sponsored by a gambling company (Hollywoodbets), having been promoted to the Premier League from a division named after a gambling company (Sky Bet Championship).

Still, football’s cosy relationship with betting, and Toney’s close proximity to it as a proven Premier League marksman, might not excuse his rule-breaking behaviour.

Twitter is awash with people only too happy to tell you that bartenders don’t simply jump in their cars and drink-drive after serving people alcoholic beverages all day.

Fine – fair enough. But the sheer proliferation of gambling alongside football makes it inevitable in my view that some players will at times fall foul of these rules.

“If gambling wants to maintain its lucrative relationship with the nation’s favourite sport, it should look at responsible gambling from all angles. Not just by protecting customers from gambling-related harm, but also with education, research and training programmes for professional sports people.”

Does being surrounded by advertising make you more likely to have a bet? Of course it does, that’s what marketing is, for any product in any industry.

Why do you think US operators nearly bankrupted themselves on marketing costs to acquire customers? Because the more of it there is, the harder it is to ignore.

If I was morally opposed to gambling as a leisure pursuit, (I wouldn’t be working in this industry for one), but I could turn the channel over at half-time or simply refuse to buy a replica shirt.

Professional footballers don’t have that option.

One prominent gambling commentator said that Toney “knew” he wasn’t allowed to have a bet, but went ahead and did it anyway. Again, this is an oversimplification in my view.

Most people “know” that cocaine is illegal, but plenty of people do it anyway. Some are plagued by addiction, and so choice doesn’t really factor, and sometimes it’s the same for gambling.

I am not suggesting Toney has a gambling addiction, and I don’t think that has been suggested elsewhere. But history tells us that footballers do tend to suffer badly from gambling-related harm when they have addictive personality traits.

Paul Merson is one example that springs to mind, although there are countless others.

The ex-Arsenal and Aston Villa legend suffered through many years of alcohol abuse and an expensive coke habit, but it was gambling that saw him fritter away more than £7m.

Despite winning the league with Arsenal, earning more than 20 England caps, and representing his country at a World Cup, Merson says he can barely remember his playing career. Football was a distraction. His focus was on finishing matches so that he could have another bet.

How sad is that?

I think like most issues in life, this is not a black and white one and there are strong arguments to be heard on both sides. Personal responsibility plays a massive part, as rules are rules and betting is quite rightly prohibited for Toney and his teammates. But the safeguarding of overexposed athletes is also a crucial issue, in my view.

If gambling wants to maintain its lucrative relationship with the nation’s favourite sport, it should look at responsible gambling from all angles. Not just by protecting customers from gambling-related harm, but also with education, research and training programmes for professional sports people.

There are notable examples of this already. EPIC Risk Management provides expert advice on the prevention of gambling addiction from a place of personal experience, with former professional footballer Scott Davies at the forefront as a programme facilitator.

Kindred Group’s 32Red brand temporarily replaced its front-of-shirt sponsorship with safer gambling slogans, which is a nice gesture, but could it be called anything more than that?

The government’s gambling review white paper was surprisingly light on proposals for marketing, which is bizarre as advertising is the single most emotive factor when it comes to turning the tide of public perception.

The government opted to sit on the sidelines. The league and its clubs took charge by voting for the voluntary front-of-shirt ban.

Ultimately, the gambling industry itself should have taken more responsibility on this issue.

More than 50% of Brits and Germans support a complete ban on gambling advertising according to separate surveys on the topic.

A representative survey commissioned by Germany’s drug and addiction commissioner Burkhard Blienert revealed that 57% of respondents are in favour of a general advertising ban on gambling.

The survey results, which were made available to German news organisation Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, also indicate that 66% believe that sponsorship by sports betting firms should be banned in football.

Additionally, 70% of those surveyed would like to see further advertising restrictions for sports betting across both television and online.

Blienert stated that advertising for gambling, alcohol, and tobacco is viewed much more critically today than it was 10 or 15 years ago, and that there have been significant changes in the attitudes of the population.

The SPD politician emphasised the need for a serious debate in politics about how much advertising for alcohol, tobacco, and gambling is acceptable and desirable.

Similar findings in the UK

Meanwhile, similar results were found in surveys conducted in the UK.

According to a poll of 1,009 adults conducted by Survation and published in the Guardian, 52% of respondents supported a ban on all gambling advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds wanted new limits on online stakes, while 68% of respondents thought under-18s should not be exposed to gambling advertising.

In addition, 64% supported affordability checks for those wanting to bet more than £100 month, and 60% saw gambling as a danger to family life.

GwL Strategy Director @WillProchaska said:

“This poll displays the strength of public sentiment on gambling advertising.

“If gambling reforms fail to significantly restrict gambling advertising, they’ll be woefully out of step with a public that expects action.”

— Gambling with Lives (@GambleWithLives) April 23, 2023

Premier League clubs recently voted to remove gambling companies from the fronts of football shirts, although campaigners have argued this doesn’t go far enough.

A recent YouGov poll of 1,000 football fans found that 77% supported the ban on gambling front-of-shirt deals.

However, 56% would like to see the ban extended to advertising on pitch-side hoardings, and 42% want betting firms permanently removed from shirt sleeves.

Gambling brands and logos will still be allowed to appear on shirts after the 2026/27 season, but not on the front of shirts.

The majority of fans also believe that gambling companies should be barred from sponsoring leagues or cup competitions. Sky Bet is the current title sponsor of the three-tiered, 72-club English Football League (EFL).

The same poll revealed that fans see gambling sponsors as less appropriate than alcohol or crypto sponsors.

Three-quarters, or 77%, of fans describe betting companies as inappropriate sponsors for football teams.

UK ministers are expected to reject a blanket ban on gambling advertising in a white paper that is rumoured to be published this week.

Advertising opponents are hoping that the white paper will include measures such as a statutory levy on gambling firms to fund research and treatment for addicts, as well as setting maximum stakes for online slots games, according to the Guardian.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has meanwhile pledged an additional £110m of funding over four years for research, education, and treatment services to tackle gambling harm, with a spokesperson endorsing mandatory contributions as long as funds are distributed effectively and independently.

“We strongly support the gambling review, but any changes introduced by the Government must not drive gamblers towards the growing unsafe, unregulated black market online, where billions of pounds are being staked,” the spokesperson said.

Black market concerns

Gambling and sports betting experts in both Germany and the UK have expressed their concerns about the potential consequences of imposing marketing restrictions and advertising bans.

They argue that such measures could inadvertently drive consumers towards unregulated and illegal gambling activities, creating a thriving black market.

Luka Andric, CEO of the German Sports Betting Association (DSWV), recently highlighted this issue, stating that “advertising is used to guide all those who are already interested in sports betting towards the state-controlled, and thus safe, market”.

The trend to prohibit gambling advertising is gaining momentum across Europe.

The Netherlands and Belgium have also approved bans that will be rolled out over the coming years.

In addition, other countries such as Ireland, Romania and more recently, Estonia, are also considering implementing similar advertising restrictions.

BuzzFeed News? More like BuzzFeed Olds

As anyone working in the digital media sector knows by now, BuzzFeed News is no more.

This week, the New York Times published an impassioned obituary of sorts, of the so-described “quirky upstart that became a Pulitzer Prize-winning operation.”

It noted the newsroom’s humble beginnings, as a clickbait and listicle-driven media company designed to capture readers’ attention through the noise of social media.

Soon, though, the business took a turn for the more sincere, and as the BuzzFeed News brand began to take itself more seriously, it “soon drew attention for its ambitious, sharp reporting.”

The brand branched out overseas and invested further into investigative journalism, with several of its alumni having moved on to more ‘high brow’ publications, such as the New York Times itself, as well as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

Those newsrooms, in turn, “have embraced many of the practices that BuzzFeed pioneered in search of readers online,” the NYT reports, as the mark made by the company on modern journalism continues to be felt across the media.

For all of its impact, however, the division failed to make enough money to survive, “unable to square the reliance on digital advertising and the whims of social media traffic with the considerable costs of employing journalists around the world.”

BuzzFeed News’ closure is set to impact some 60 members of BuzzFeed’s 1,200-strong employee base, with another 120 jobs to be cut across the parent company’s business, content, tech and administrative teams.

The layoffs are part of a broader trend which has seen other media outlets – Vox Media and Vice, for example – fail to live up to their previously massive valuations.

Vox laid off 7% of its staff in January, while Vice is “desperately seeking a buyer,” according to the NYT.

Despite the unfortunate turn of events that led to Buzzfeed News’ closure, the brand signed off in typical good humour. 

The last Apple News push notification sent out by the outlet read: “BuzzFeed News is logging off with a reminder that Blippi pooped on his friend.”

Well, what more is there to say than that?

A load of old junk(ets)

The Financial Times once again took a closer look at the gambling industry this week, with a story on the “overdue reckoning for Macau’s casinos,” after the local industry’s reliance on ‘junket’ operators fell under the spotlight.

The story begins with gaming lawyer Jorge Menezes, a figure “prepared to ask on the record, difficult questions about the gambling industry in the territory,” and who was once attacked by thugs using bricks tied to their fists.

Those difficult questions include how casinos, including those publicly listed in the US, were “allowed to co-operate with parties accused of illegal practices that were carried out for years seemingly in plain sight?”

Menezes refers here to the practices of ‘junket’ operators, who promote casinos to the ultra-wealthy and encourage them to gamble stakes in the millions, transferring the money out of mainland China and into Macau in breach of Chinese law.

The issue came to a head in 2021 when Alvin Chau, the head of junket operator Suncity Group and referred to by the FT as “Asia’s gambling kingpin”, was arrested following a crackdown from Beijing on Macau’s casino sector.

Chau was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison for involvement in organised crime, illegal betting and fraud.

Following his arrest, MGM, Wynn and Sands all promptly terminated their agreements with junket operators, while some casinos in Australia had their licences suspended after allowing Suncity to operate gambling rooms for VIP high rollers on their premises.

Menezes suggests that casino operators have since been performing an unconvincing display of mock incredulity at the revelations, compared by the FT to the famous Casablanca gag: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“Did they not know for 10 years, can anyone believe MGM, Wynn and Sands did not know that criminal activities were taking place in their casinos, does anyone believe this?” Menezes asks.

In the end, this article brings up more questions than it does answers, as it notes: “While the big junket companies have closed, the casino businesses have continued with hardly a blip.”

And, with all six of Macau’s major operators handed new, 10-year licences last year, “their lucky streak continues,” it concludes.

Lucky indeed.

Gambling and football: a love story for the ages

Another stellar piece from the FT makes it into this week’s Hot Copy, as Samuel Agini and Oliver Barnes offer a deep dive into “How English football became hooked on gambling.”

As clubs in the Premier League now prepare to (very slowly) phase out front-of-shirt sponsorships by gambling firms, the authors looked into the past, present and future of the gambling sector’s love affair with the Beautiful Game.

They suggest that the reluctance of football authorities to cut ties with the sector altogether is indicative of the sport’s financial reliance on gambling, especially in lower leagues.

The government is accused of taking half-measures “to keep the hawks at bay,” while it’s suggested the Premier League is attempting to “portray an image of responsibility,” without giving up the revenues associated with gambling.

Of course, football is the biggest betting sport in the UK, followed fairly closely by horse racing, while no other sport comes remotely close to either.

Readers are encouraged to have a proper look at the FT’s article, which sets out several key statistics from the sector in a series of easy-to-understand graphics.

Football’s obsession with gambling firms can be traced back to 2002, when Fulham became the first English football club to sign a sponsorship deal with betting exchange Betfair.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and a 2020 study showed that a gambling sponsor was referenced every 21 seconds during a typical TV match broadcast.

The article argues that even if front-of-shirt sponsorships disappear from view over the next few seasons, the gambling sector’s obsession with football is going nowhere.

Because, while the EFL may insist that gambling sponsorships are in no way related to increased betting among football fans, “they wouldn’t keep spending the money if it didn’t work.”

A paid-for BetVictor Facebook ad must not appear again after the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it to be in breach of regulations.

Background context

The advert was seen in January 2023 and featured an image of Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for FC Barcelona.

Text above the image asked “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?” while the BetVictor logo was visible in the ad’s top corner.

The ASA ruled that the advert featured individuals “likely to have a strong appeal to under-18-year olds,” therefore breaching the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The ASA’s response has raised some eyebrows in the industry, given a previous ruling stating that retired footballers such as Peter Crouch and Harry Redknapp – despite their widespread popularity and media visibility – were not of particular appeal to under-18s.

BetVictor response

BetVictor set out a series of arguments detailing why it believed the players should not be considered of particular appeal to under-18s in the UK.

The operator argued that while FC Barcelona is a popular, top-flight team, the players in question are not especially well known in the UK, as opposed to football superstars like Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe.

BetVictor said for that reason that Alba and Busquets should be considered of “medium risk”, given their lower profiles at European or World clubs.

Neither footballer played in an attacking or goal-scoring position, and their names did not make headlines, the operator argued, while neither had ever scored against any UK team and had not played in a club match against any Premier League team since 2019.

Further, BetVictor pointed out that while both players had represented Spain at a national level, their latest appearances had not resulted in any games against England or Wales.

Although the Spanish team had won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2012, BetVictor said any children in the UK who had witnessed those events and formed a strong connection to the players would now be over 18.

Further, neither player had high-value, personal sponsorship deals with any major brands in the UK and did not have a strong social media profile with those aged under-18.

Neither player had a social media presence on platforms commonly used by under-18s, such as Snapchat, TikTok or Twitch. In addition, Sergio Busquets had not posted on Twitter since May 2019, and Jordi Alba’s Twitter and Instagram posts were written in either Spanish or Catalan.

Comparing the volume of Google searches for the players compared to others, BetVictor found that search volume for Lionel Messi was at least 50 times higher than for either of the players, for Cristiano Ronaldo at least 75 times higher, and for Mbappe at least 20 times higher.

Even when looking at retired players in the UK, search volume for Peter Crouch was more than five times higher than for either player, and for Micah Richards more than six times higher.

As a result, BetVictor had concluded that both players had relatively low profiles in the UK and were therefore acceptable for inclusion in the post.

In addition to that slew of arguments, BetVictor added that the Facebook ad had only been paid for in order to ensure it was appropriately targeted to users aged over 25. Indeed, it added that data from the social media site showed 100% of the post’s viewers were in that age category.

ASA response

In return, the ASA argued that football was the most prominent gambling-related subject of particular appeal to under-18s, and that those involved in the sport at the professional level enjoyed exceptionally high media profiles.

“Those who played at an elite level, especially those who were successful internationally, were therefore likely to appeal strongly to children,” it said.

Any ‘star’ footballers – even if they do not play for UK teams – are considered high-risk in terms of how likely they are to appeal to under-18s, the authority added, suggesting that Alba and Busquets’ positions at FC Barcelona and Spain’s national team saw them fall into that category.

Other arguments included that both players had played for Spain’s national team during the 2022 World Cup, shortly before the ad was published, and had played in the semi-final of the Euro 2020 championship at Wembley Stadium in London.

“Both of those international events had a large amount of media coverage in the UK and were prominent events that would have been of interest to under-18s,” the ASA said.

However, the authority did concede that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s could be entirely excluded from the audience.

That would apply in circumstances where those viewing the ad had been “robustly age-verified,” such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking.

Because Facebook users can self-verify their age when signing up, by posting the ad there the ASA declared that BetVictor had not sufficiently excluded under-18s from the ad’s potential audience.

The ASA therefore deemed the ad to be “irresponsible” and said it was in breach of the CAP Code. 

As a result, the ad may not appear again in its current form, and BetVictor has been told “not to include a person or character who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age” in its advertising.

Premier League clubs have mutually agreed to withdraw front-of-shirt gambling sponsorships.

The announcement – which had been expected for some time – comes after an extensive consultation involving the Premier League and its 20 clubs, as well as the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of the Gambling Act review.

The review has been in the works for more than two years, but could now be published as soon as Monday, according to sources.

The top-flight shirt ban will apply from the 2026/27 season and clubs are permitted to strike gambling sponsorship deals with companies between now and then.

Gambling brands and logos will still be allowed to appear on shirts after the 2026/27 season, but not on the front of shirts.

The premier league have recognised that gambling adverts on football shirts cause gambling harm. BUT won’t remove the adverts from the pitch side or shirt sleeves. Despite recognising it causes harm. ( fixed that for you @premierleague ) https://t.co/dCj0Y16GNP

— Ronnie Cowan MP (@ronniecowan) April 13, 2023

Sleeve sponsors and training wear sponsors will still be permitted, as will gambling marketing on advertising hoardings in stadiums during matches.

Eight top-flight clubs are currently sponsored by gambling companies. They are West Ham (Betway), Southampton (Sportsbet.io), Newcastle (Fun88), Leeds (SBOTOP), Fulham (BetVictor), Everton (Stake.com), Brentford (Hollywood Bets) and Bournemouth (Dafabet).

Those deals combined have an estimated value per season of £60m.

In a statement, the Premier League said it had become the first sports league in the UK to take such a measure voluntarily and would now work with other sports on the development of a new code for responsible gambling sponsorship.

The English Football League, which consists of 72 clubs and three divisions, is currently sponsored by Sky Bet. It has not been included in the front-of-shirt ban.

More to follow…

Better Collective has signed its first global media partnership, having struck a deal with online football news platform Goal.com.

The partnership, which officially kicks off today (1 March), will run across several active domains and the content will be published in three different languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese).

Goal, which is owned by London-based media company Footballco, attracts 64 million monthly visitors.

Better Collective will provide these users with commercial sports betting content and data as part of the agreement.

Goal itself was founded in 2004 and is now considered one of the world’s most popular digital soccer destinations. It is published in 19 languages and boasts more than 600 contributors, as well as nearly eight million followers on Twitter.

The site will now include a dedicated betting section with content, betting odds and analysis all supplied by Better Collective’s team of content producers.

The deal is the first digital-only partnership signed by Better Collective following similar agreements with print-based outlets such as the Daily Telegraph, New York Post and Chicago Tribune.

The FIFA World Cup played no small part in driving record Q4 results at Better Collective as it generated revenue of €86m and referred more than 580,000 new depositing customers to operators.

Footballco’s James Lamon: “We understand football fans have a diverse range of interests that collectively form their passion for football. For many, betting is a part of that passion.”

The tournament helped to grow revenue in Europe and the Rest of the World by 59% to €52.2m, as more than 300,000 NDCs were referred to operators as a result of the tournament alone.

Better Collective CEO Jesper Søgaard said: “Partnering with such a well-recognised and renowned media like Goal perfectly aligns with our media partnership strategy and our overall strategy of becoming the leading digital sports media group.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will be able to benefit from each other’s expertise,” he added.

Footballco’s five portfolio companies are estimated to reach more than 640 million football fans every month across its web, app, social media, podcast and video channels.

The business is majority-owned by Integrated Media Company (IMC), an affiliate of US private equity giant TPG.

DAZN Group also retains a minority stake after selling Goal alongside two additional brands (Spox and Voetbalzone) in a combined deal worth an estimated $100m back in 2020.

James Lamon, EVP of content and operations at Footballco, said: “We understand football fans have a diverse range of interests that collectively form their passion for football.

“For many, betting is a part of that passion. We’re excited to work with Better Collective to offer our fans higher quality stats, analysis, and tips to enhance their betting experience,” he added.

Affiliate group Better Collective referred a record 580,000 new depositing customers (NDCs) to its operator partners in Q4 2022, helped by the popularity of the FIFA World Cup.

Topline numbers

In Q4 2022, Better Collective generated revenue of €86.1m, a 63.2% year-on-year increase demonstrating organic growth of 44%.

Of the total, €41.3m was considered recurring revenue, an increase of 81% compared to Q4 2021.

Q4 EBITDA before special items totalled €35.2m, up 115.4% at an EBITDA margin of 41%.

The number of NDCs referred to operators by Better Collective during the quarter was an all-time high of more than 580,000, up 117% on the comparative period.

Of those NDCs, some 78% were sent on rev share contracts.

Those figures brought Better Collective’s full-year 2022 revenue to €269.3m, up 52.1% year-on-year, or 34% on an organic basis.

EBITDA before special items for the year was €85.1m, up 52.5%, on an EBITDA margin of 32%.

NDCs for the full year hit more than 1.68 million, up 96%, with 76% of those being referred on rev share contracts.

Geographical breakdown

Driven principally by Action Network, Better Collective achieved its previously stated target of exceeding $100m of revenue from the US during 2022.

The business achieved this milestone in spite of moving some $15m of revenue from upfront cost-per-acquisition (CPA) contracts to rev share deals, it said.

The US figure represents an annual growth rate of 102% in the region, helped along by revenue of €34m (up 71% year-on-year) in Q4.

US revenue therefore represented around 38% of the group’s total during the quarter.

In Europe and the Rest of the World, meanwhile, Q4 revenue hit €52.2m, up 59%, and accounting for some 62% of total group revenue.

News nugget

The FIFA World Cup played no small part in driving Better Collective’s record Q4 results.

The tournament helped to grow revenue in Europe and the Rest of the World by 59% to €52.2m, as more than 300,000 NDCs were referred to operators as a result of the tournament alone.

The performance exceeded the company’s expectations revealed CEO Jesper Søgaard, with the number of NDCs referred exceeding more than the last four men’s World Cups and European Championships combined.

Indeed, compared to the 2018 World Cup, the firm’s performance improved tenfold, “a true testament to how far we have come in just four years,” according to Søgaard.

Given that the majority of customers were referred on a rev share basis, there was a “short-term dampening effect” on performance, but the CEO insisted this would bring the business a long-term benefit for the future.

The launch of legalised sports betting in Maryland, meanwhile, helped grow US revenue by 71% to €33.9m, together with a busy North American sports calendar in Q4.

Best question

As Better Collective increases the number of partners it works with on a rev share basis, Hjalmar Ahlberg of Swedish investment bank Redeye asked whether operators in the US are becoming more open to striking that kind of deal with affiliates.

In response, Søgaard said: “We now have six partners in the US we are working with on rev share agreements, up from four in Q3. 

“We do see progress with more partners where we are working in a very aligned way and also in more of a strategic partnership way, with the aim of us being closer to the partner and ultimately able to to integrate better with them.

“So I think it’s a good development we see, and we sense that it’s also an acknowledgement of the position we have in the American market, with the brands we own becoming must-have brands for these partners to be featured. 

“We’ve even seen the Action brand being highlighted in one of the big sportsbook’s reporting in their webcast, so it is really a testament to the quality of the brands we own.”

Best quote

CFO Flemming Pedersen on the possibility of more M&A activity at Better Collective:

“Right now there’s a mismatch between public valuation and private price expectations, to be honest. So, until that gets into sync again, I think in general there will be more muted activity. It’s not the interest rates, as such. It’s more the public valuations – the multiples that we’re trading at are basically below the expectations of the targets we’re looking at.”

Current trading and outlook

January 2023 was a record breaking month for the affiliate, with revenue in excess of €37m, up more than 40% year-on-year.

Those figures were helped by the statewide launch of sports betting in Ohio, while the growth recorded came on top of a strong comparative period in January 2021, during which New York state launched its own legalised betting market.

The business has a revenue target of between €290m and €300m for the full year 2023, with EBITDA before special items between €90m and €100m, and a net debt to EBITDA before special items ratio of under 2x.

Following the end of the reporting period, Better Collective signed new media partnerships with football-focused online news portal Goal.com and Polish media business Wirtualna Polska.

It also signed a smaller asset deal for a sports media in an emerging market, for which the price was $4.3m including an upfront payment of $3m.

The firm said it will undertake one-off costs for investments in 2023 to help it establish a stronger presence in Latam and other emerging markets where regulation is in place or expected in the future.

Including an investment to be made in building a proprietary technology platform for display advertising, the initiatives are expected to add around €10m in additional costs in 2023.

Kambi has reported all-time high full-year revenue after a strong Q4 2022 period driven by the World Cup and a busy US sporting calendar. 

Topline numbers

Q4 2022 revenue rose 66% year-on-year to €57.8m, including a €12.6m early termination fee from US operator Penn Entertainment, which is migrating away from Kambi this year and onto its own proprietary sportsbook platform.

EBITDA for the quarter increased by 104% to €27.3m as operating profit (EBIT) came in at €18.7m, up 164% on last year at an operating margin of 32.3%.

Excluding the early termination fee, Q4 revenue hit €45.2m, representing an increase of 30%, while operating profit actually decreased by 15.5% to €6m.

Kambi’s Operator Turnover Index, which illustrates the quarterly turnover of operator clients, soared by 20% year-on-year and by 43% sequentially, with a combined operator trading margin of 8.1%.

Kambi said the busy US sporting calendar was a key driver of growth after expansion into new states including Kansas, Maryland and New York when compared to Q4 2021.

On a full-year 2022 basis, revenue reached €166m amid a modest annual climb of 2%. This was an all-time high for the company.

The Stockholm-listed supplier reported annual declines in both EBITDA, down 20% to €63.4m, and operating profit, down 39% to €34.8m.

In geographic terms, the Americas contributed 55% of Kambi’s Q4 operator GGR as Europe provided 42%. The Rest of World region made up the remainder at 3%.

News nugget

The 2022 World Cup final, which saw Lionel Messi’s Argentina emerge victorious, set a new turnover record for a single match.

The winter tournament played a major role in football recording year-on-year turnover growth despite a reduced number of domestic fixtures in November and December.

Nine of Kambi’s top 10 sports events by turnover in Q4 were World Cup fixtures.

Kambi CEO Kristian Nylén said player engagement was excellent throughout the competition, which also helped to showcase the supplier’s new third-gen algorithmic trading capability.

“This new method of trading automation has been in development for a few years, with the World Cup providing us with the perfect opportunity to stress-test it at scale and we couldn’t have been happier with its performance,” said Nylén.

“Powering our entire pre-match offering, this proprietary capability leverages the full power of data to deliver an even greater product, with more betting opportunities presented to the player in a quick and cost-efficient way,” he added.

Since the tournament, Kambi has fully automated its pre-match pricing to deliver a World Cup standard product across many domestic leagues, while the additional automation of in-play pricing could follow later this year.

Best quote

Kambi highlighted the pricing of its BetBuilder product in the earnings call, which will be wheeled out as a separate product as part of its ongoing modularisation strategy.

In the Super Bowl BetBuilder example above, Kambi partners offered better value via the supplier’s BetBuilder technology than leading US operators using different or proprietary software.

ABG Sundal analyst Oscar Rönnkvist asked how Kambi was planning to make the US sports bettor aware of its supposedly superior pricing. Nylén said the below in response:

“We will really push operators to be aware of how good a pricing they have. We may not have done a great job so far on it, but you can be sure that is top of mind for us. This will become more and more evident when cash out becomes more of a given for BetBuilders.”

Best question

The best question also came from ABG Sundal’s Rönnkvist. He asked what impact Kambi had felt from Mattress Mack’s $75m win on the Astros to win the World Series.

The US store owner placed massive bets with six US sportsbooks, including two Kambi clients in Kindred Group (Unibet) and Penn Entertainment (Barstool Sportsbook).

Kindred paid out £4.4m on the winning wager, while Penn lost $10m.

The answer did not match the question on this occasion: “I don’t want to go into exact details but we took two bets,” said Nylén. “There is some impact on us during the quarter yes.”

Current trading and outlook

After the reporting period, Kambi expanded its footprint in North America via day one market launches in both Massachusetts and Ohio. It also extended its partnership with US operator Rush Street Interactive.

Kambi provided long-term financial targets at a Capital Markets Day event in January, which it hopes to achieve by 2027. The supplier is aiming for 2-3x 2022 revenue of between €330m and €500m, as well as operating profit in excess of €150m.

Kambi expects its global total addressable market (TAM) to hit €50bn by 2027.