November 12, 2009

Online gaming is driving spend in sports. But will the legislators derail the gravy train?

This season already, the gambling operator has signed up as shirt sponsor of two Premier League clubs - Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers - in north-west England, while 11 out of 16 Portuguese league clubs have BetClic emblazoned on their shirt-fronts this season.

This multiple sponsorship trend reflects a more general proliferation of gaming sector marketing around sport, and football, in particular… Real Madrid, AC Milan (Bwin) and Lyon (BetClic) are the continent’s market leaders in the promotion of gaming online and the likes of the German Bundesliga (Bwin) and the Australian A-League (Bet365) are among the best bets for combined live action and betting online.

It’s clear that the online gaming sector is no longer about fantasy revenue forecasts and stellar predictions. The amounts gambled online already scale the billions, while the sector represents a multi-million dollar marketing boon for sporting clubs and organisations.

Most importantly in these hard times, it’s a sector that is continuing to grow. According to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC) global online gambling yield will increase by 25 per cent over on the next three years, with a significant proportion coming from global interest in football betting.

As Mike Falconer, chief executive of online gaming services firm, BettorLogic, reported in the SportBusiness International sister publication, iGaming Business, “Football has been almost singularly responsible for the steep progression of both Asian and newer [Southern and Eastern] European markets…and can account for 75 per cent - 80 per cent of bets taken in the major Asian countries.”

The sponsorship of the two clubs in England’s north-west is a case in point, leveraging both local loyalties and the fame of the Premier League globally, especially in the gambling operator’s main market, Asia.

“The Premier League is and has been heavily broadcast globally and is increasing in a number of markets with several pending deals which will take it through pay-per-view to free-to-air in a number of markets,” said 188Bet CEO Andy Scott.

“So, that is a very strong attraction. It gives us a presence in our current markets as well as visibility in new markets."

It’s not only shirt sponsorship that is upping the ante for the gambling sector involvement in sport. 188Bet has signed two ‘official partnership’ agreements with Aston Villa and Chelsea, while Betfair, the leading betting exchange brand, has signed up for three years with current Premier League champions Manchester United.

Yet for clubs or organisations from jurisdictions in the United States or Europe where online gambling is banned or discouraged, such a close relationship between rights holder and gaming operator, may seem strange. And, it should be stressed that many European jurisdictions have yet to de-regulate the online gambling environment in the same way as the UK. But some European markets are catching up - and this is directly reflected in marketing activity. According to iGaming Business, the number of La Liga teams in Spain now sporting the logos of online operators are on a par with that of the UK in the early 2000s.

Similar growth is being witnessed in other EU countries such as Italy. In fact the biggest online gaming sponsorship deals in football are now in Spanish and Italian territories, where Austrian operator Bwin has set up landmark deals with Real Madrid and AC Milan. In the case of the Spanish giants, the sponsorship is thought to be worth around €45m over three years.

But changes to the law can’t come soon enough for Olympic Lyonnais. The French club was forced to start the new French football season without displaying the name of shirt sponsor BetClic, after the French football association rejected the club’s request to display the logo.
Then there is Portugal, once considered among the more accessible online gaming markets - and when BetClic signed up with 11 clubs in the top league for this season they gazumped Bwin which had title sponsored the entire national league from 2005-2008.

But in a move that will encourage other European governments to hold onto their gambling monopolies, the EU recently upheld the Portuguese government’s gambling restrictions as legal. The decision, which arose from a legal challenge brought by Bwin and the Portuguese League, could jeopardise the sponsorship contracts made by BetClic with the 11 Portuguese clubs.

Confusing? You bet. As is the situation Stateside, where the previous Bush administration passed a prohibitive anti-gaming law that has seen some online gaming operators jailed.
Although there are indicators that this legislation may change under the Democrats, any federally regulated online gambling system is likely to be fiercely protected and run by the major Nevada casinos.

Despite the unwanted attentions of government regulators, the online sector continues to grow its customer base - and now it has a new weapon in its marketing arsenal: live sports content. And the gaming sector’s relationship with sports rights is set to run and run. The depth of the relationship, however, will ultimately be determined by national legislators - and at this stage in the game, no one can predict with certainty how that particular story will pan out.


  1. The European Court's ruling to preserve the Portuguese monopoly was extraordinary, in how heavily it suggested the relationship between betting agencies and sports competitors is open to corruption. It is a wonder gambling wasn't outlawed altogether!

    Given how much sports gambling raises for the EU (€3.4 billion a year) and invests into sports, it seems two faced of the EU to preserve these protectionist monopolies. The campaign at is campaigning for an open gambling market and right for consumer choice. Please support the petition if you agree!

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