The story of Leicester City’s amazing success this season has been strongly charted against the 5,000-1 odds they commanded back in August – and the financial hit that bookmakers have taken. However, the story also underlines how ingrained betting companies are in the psyche of the football fan – something that has grown stronger and stronger in recent years.
To appreciate the growth in betting sponsorship in the UK only takes a quick glance at the shirts of the 20 teams competing in this season’s Premier League. No fewer than seven teams – AFC Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Sunderland, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham – feature branding from betting firms in the prime front-of-shirt position, while others also have sizeable betting partnerships in place. Indeed, every club this season has had at least one betting firm feature within their prime pitch-side advertising – with some clubs featuring as many as five different brands.
Of the estimated €100 million invested by the betting sector in UK sports sponsorship this year, over €80 million goes into football, according to Repucom market intelligence. That overall spend on sport is up from around €70 million since 2013 and has been fuelled by the rise of online betting outlets, including many from Asia reflecting the appetite for Premier League football in the region.
The market is undoubtedly crowded. Several betting firms have deals in place with agencies, ensuring regular advertising slots on LED boards at multiple Premier League home grounds; others hold hospitality space with clubs at stadiums, while many are regular TV advertisers before, during and after live games in the UK and beyond, often promoting in-play betting services and live odds.
Different clubs have adopted different partnership models. Manchester United, for example, agreed a multi-year deal with Marathonbet in August, which saw the company become the club’s global betting partner in all markets except China and the United States. Marathonbet signed a similar deal with Liverpool over the summer, although without the brand visibility, while Chelsea used the off-season to confirm its own new global betting partner in BetVictor.
Others have taken a different route, securing partnerships with several betting firms on a regional basis: in 2013, Bodog signed a three-year deal to be Arsenal’s official Asian betting partner. Then last August, the London club named Betfair as its partner in Europe, excluding the UK, Ireland and Italy where Paddy Power has filled the role since 2013.
The Premier League is an unparalleled global media product, as its most recent domestic and international rights cycle has demonstrated – in the UK, Sky last year committed to paying an average of £11 million per game, part ofa total domestic rights fee of £5.136 billion for the next cycle, which begins next season. Broadcast far and wide, in the UK and beyond, the resulting global audiences for the league and the growing international fan bases of individual clubs have unsurprisingly attracted the attention of a host of betting firms.
HOW CAN BETTING COMPANIES STAND OUT IN A CONGESTED MARKETPLACE? In the betting market, meanwhile, the fight for market share between online operators and traditional UK high-street bookmakers has never been more competitive.
Repucom is increasingly working with betting brands in helping them address the key points that will differentiate themselves in such an over-crowded market. By targeting the right groups of fans, this involves answering questions such as:
What type of activation is most effective – is it brand or a call to action?
How much do football fans spend and what is their propensity to bet?
How does your brand recall compare to others active in the marketplace?
What kind of loyalty do fans have to an official club sponsor, versus other visible betting brands at their club and beyond?
How does the timing of LED board offers and television advertising break bumpers influence impulsive betting?
Building on the media exposure we saw betting and gaming companies gaining in the first month of the season,new data covering August to February in the Premier League shows that £256 million in advertising value has been generated by just 19 brands. With two-thirds of the season evaluated, this represents an average of £13 million per club, although one brand – a front of shirt sponsor – has already surpassed £30 million.
But how can this media value be linked back to revenue? Through the data Repucom is capturing, it is possible to show exactly what in-play, in-stadium branding was seen when and in which market – and link this to the customer activity a brand saw happening off the back of it. This measure of ROI not only enables a Marketing Director to report back to his Financial Director, but also sheds valuable light on the effectiveness of static logos versus the more creative calls-to-action.
WHAT’S THE SPONSORSHIP LANDSCAPE LIKE BEYOND FOOTBALL?
Although betting sponsorship has its roots in horse racing, through on-course bookmakers and promotion through race, meeting and festival sponsorships – indeed, William Hill engaged in racing’s first sponsorship deal as long ago as 1957, by backing the Ebor race at York – the rise in the sector’s spending over the last decade or so has been dramatic.
Many sports in the UK have benefited financially from the growth and competitiveness of the sector. Horse racing continues to have a deeply ingrained relationship with the betting industry, while major tournaments in sports like darts and snooker are regularly sponsored by betting firms. Since tobacco advertising was outlawed, snooker’s World Championship has been sponsored by 888.com (2006-08), Betfred (2009-12, 2015-17), Betfair (2013) and Dafabet (2014). In darts, meanwhile, almost all of the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) major events in 2016 have betting firms as their title sponsor.
As for the future, bookmakers are already looking to tap into the remarkable growth in professional eSports competitions – Betway launched its own dedicated eSports micro-site in August, Dafabet is already a sponsor of the Fnatic eSports team and firms such as Bet365 have incorporated dedicated eSports sections onto the front page of their websites.
It is also worth keeping tabs on the internationalisation of US fantasy sports gaming giants DraftKings and FanDuel over the coming months. Both companies have invested heavily in partnerships with US sports leagues, teams, tournaments and broadcasters over the past 24 months. The first signs of this spreading to the UK came in February when DraftKings announced partnerships with three Premier League teams – Arsenal, Liverpool and Watford.
The popularity of sport and the opportunity it affords gaming companies to connect with fans shows no signs of slowing down. As Jason Robins, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of DraftKings, put it in the press release announcing the partnerships:
“Our ambition is to bring players as close to the action as possible, with all the information they need to assemble the best teams. To do that, we are partnering with some of the biggest names in football here in the UK.”