Several Premier League clubs have struck lucrative shirt sponsorship deals with gambling operators as pre-season gets underway before the 2023/24 campaign.
Top-flight teams are free to sign commercial contracts with betting companies as the voluntary ban on front-of-shirt sponsorships does not come into force until 2026.
Aston Villa have sealed a three-year deal with Asian bookmaker BK8, while Fulham and Burnley have reached new agreements with SBOTOP and W88 respectively.
The deals have caused a backlash among fans, particularly in the case of Aston Villa.
Their new partner BK8 previously signed on with Norwich City in 2021, but the Canaries terminated the deal that same week after the operator was adjudged to have promoted its brand with suggestive and sexualised content online and via social media.
Villa’s contract with BK8 will last right up until the end of the 2025/26 season, which is when the front-of-shirt sponsorship ban will officially come into force.
In the UK, Prince William – also known as the Prince of Wales – reportedly disapproves of the BK8 deal. He is an Aston Villa supporter and said he was “not happy” with the agreement while in conversation with Gambling with Lives founders Liz and Charles Ritchie.
Their son, Jack, died by suicide at the age of 24 in 2017. He was addicted to gambling.
The Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust has also denounced the deal. In a statement, it said: “Though we acknowledge the commercial reality, we sadly feel the club has failed to listen to the legitimate concerns of fans about the role of gambling sponsorship in sport.
“The BK8 agreement is a cynical last-minute attempt to scoop the financial gains ahead of the voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling sponsors.”
Elsewhere, SBOTOP has managed to retain a Premier League presence by teaming up with Fulham. They sponsored Leeds United last season, who were relegated.
Fulham commercial director Jon Don-Carolis said: “The coveted front of shirt sponsorship plays an integral part in keeping the club competitive through significant revenue.”
Critics on Twitter have suggested the Premier League’s phasing out timeline for shirt sponsorship has had the opposite effect by inadvertently “kickstarting a goldrush”.
Others, including fans of Leeds, have described the gambling company ban as “nonsense”. Leeds were forced to release SBOTOP from their commercial contract after being relegated.
Image credit: Aston Villa/Twitter
Fulham FC has struck a sponsorship deal with Asian gambling operator W88 ahead of the 2022/23 Premier League campaign.
The partnership – which includes front-of-shirt and main team partner sponsorship – is understood to be a commercial record for the London club.
The new kit will be officially unveiled on 29 July 2022 and will be worn by both the men’s and women’s first teams. It will make its debut in a pre-season clash with Villarreal.
W88 is an established Premier League partner, having previously netted similar sponsorship deals with Aston Villa, Wolves and Crystal Palace, although very little is known about the business and its corporate operating model or ownership structure.
Palace cut ties with the operator this summer as it moved away from gambling sponsorship and secured a new agreement with online car retailer Cinch.
Fulham sales director Jon Don-Carolis said: “We’re pleased to welcome W88 on board as main team partner this season in a record sponsorship deal for the club.
“The deal provides significant revenue to assist with our commercial objectives, enabling us to compete in a challenging and exciting Premier League campaign,” he added.
#FFC 🤝 #W88Football
Our new Front of Shirt and Main Team Partner.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) July 25, 2022
However, fans reacted angrily to the deal when it was announced on Twitter. Many said they would refuse to buy the jersey because it promoted a gambling company.
Everton fans have already criticised their club for similar reasons this summer, while all 20 top-flight clubs are scheduled to vote on a voluntary plan to scrap gambling front-of-shirt sponsors altogether.
If 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs agree, these types of commercial contracts will be phased out in the coming seasons.
The initiative is designed to deter potential government intervention on the issue, which has become a headline chapter in the delayed gambling act review white paper.
Brentford, who finished 13th in the Premier League last season, are currently sponsored by the UK division of South Africa-based sports betting operator Hollywood Bets.
In a Twitter poll this week, however, 70% of their fans voted to discontinue commercial partnerships with gambling companies.
Quick Poll: With the Premier League set to bring in a voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling sponsorship, do you think #brentfordfc should continue with commercial partnerships with gambling firms?
— BIAS (@BIAS_bfc) July 21, 2022
The new Premier League season kicks off on Friday 5 August. As it stands, at least eight top-flight clubs will adorn gambling companies on their new-look first-team jerseys.