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Gambling companies now sponsor 45% of the clubs in the Premiere League

English Football teams have come under scrutiny amid a steep rise in the amount of gambling sponsorships for teams. The recent surge of gambling firms sponsoring Premier League teams have been met with criticism by the British Labour Party and others who claim that the Premier League is feeding the “hidden epidemic” of addiction by exposing children to gambling at an early age through associated labelling.

Gambling sponsorships have not always been a thing – to be precise the trend began in the 2002-03 Premier League season when Fulham secured a deal that saw Betfair’s logo inscribed on their shirt. The move seemed outlandish at that time, as Fulham was the first Premier League team to be sponsored by a firm from the gambling sector.

Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, the gambling sector has become the dominating sector sponsoring Premier League teams’ shirts – backing 45% of the Premier League teams; with a further 100% of the teams having at least one “official gaming partner”.

In late September, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Thomas Watson, pointed out the negative effects of messaging on merchandise, saying they send the wrong message about football clubs and how seriously they take the problem of gambling addiction.

“Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough. It puts gambling brands in front of fans of all ages, not just at matches but on broadcasts and highlights packages on both commercial television and the BBC," said Watson.

According to data from Sporting Intelligence, the shirt sponsorships brought in revenue of R857.9m (about £47m) in the current Premier League season. Though the revenue invested by the gambling firms increased by R219.5m (about £12m) from the previous season, the number of Premier League teams donning a gambling logo on their shirt decreased from a peak of 10 to nine from the 2016-17.

Despite this apparent reciprocal interest by Premier League teams to the gambling sector, the English Football Association (FA) seem to have had a change of heart in its association with gambling firms and has terminated its deal worth R72.5m (£4m) with betting firm Ladbrokes. This came amid a series of betting controversies that invited criticism towards the FA for commercially aligning with a bookmaker.

The incident ultimately triggered the FA’s decision to change its policy around gambling, and announced in June that it would cease all commercial agreements with gambling firms. “The decision was made following a three-month review of the FA’s approach to it as a governing body taking betting sponsorship, whilst being responsible for the regulation of sports betting within the sport’s rules.

“As a consequence, the FA has mutually agreed with Ladbrokes that its current partnership with the FA will be terminated from June 2017.… The FA will continue to work with betting companies, including Ladbrokes, as they play a key role in sharing information on suspect betting patterns and so help in regulating the game," said a statement released by the FA.

Among the controversies, former Burnley player Joey Barton was banned from the sport for 18 months for breaching betting rules which prohibit football players from making football bets. The ban was later reduced to 13 months.

Barton was also fined R544,104 (£30,000) for the incident which saw him admit to having a gambling addiction. He said he found it difficult to stop because of the environment of British football, which has an array of gambling firms as sponsors.

In the three league tiers below the Premier League naming rights are held by a gambling company – SkyBet, the number of teams sponsored by a gambling firm in the top tier has increased in the last five years from 15% in 2013-14 season to 45% in the current season.

This incident re-ignited the debate surrounding gambling and Premier League football, and whether or not Premier League clubs should follow the lead of the FA and end their commercial agreements with gambling firms.

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