Crystal Palace have become the first Premier League club to remove a gambling company from the front of their shirts before the government plans to ban betting sponsors in the top flight.
Palace will replace the W88 logo with that of cinch, the car insurance company which has launched a string of high-profile sports sponsorships in recent years.
The government’s proposed law was included in a draft white paper earlier this week – a very early stage of policy formulation – ahead of a planned reform of gambling laws next month. A House of Lords selection committee first recommended the move in 2020.
Cinch also sponsors the England cricket team, the Scottish Professional Football League, Northampton Saints rugby club and the Queen’s Tennis Championships. They are also the official sleeve partner of Tottenham Hotspur.
There has been increasing pressure on authorities to remove the large number of in-game betting advertisements, including advertisements on shirts, pitch boards, competition names, stadiums and other club affiliations.
No fewer than nine top clubs – Palace, Leeds United, West Ham United, Newcastle United, Wolves, Southampton, Brentford, Burnley and Watford – were sponsored by bookmakers in the 2021/22 season.
Activists say the level of in-game advertising is at odds with the number of children who watch it regularly.
James Grimes, who previously suffered from gambling addiction and is the founder of campaign group The Big Step, narrates I: “Football is loved by millions of young people around the world and there is no justification for exposing children to an addictive substance that harms millions of people and claims hundreds of lives every year in this country.
“Gaming companies use football to legitimize, normalize and glamorize their products.”
The government chose to legislate on this issue because the Premier League and Football League (EFL) do not want to prevent clubs from signing deals with betting companies. The two panels believe there is no evidence of a causal link between gambling sponsorship and problem gambling.
The EFL, which is sponsored by Sky Bet, also says that a ban on gambling sponsorship would cost clubs £40m a year and that the withdrawal of that revenue stream would have a significant impact on leagues already plagued by financial unsustainability.
It therefore seems likely that the government will exempt Championship clubs from any ban, at least in the short term – and potentially introduce an exit policy for all non-Premier League teams.
However, Grimes has urged the government and football authorities to go further to curb the promotion of gambling in the sport.
“A shirt sponsorship ban would be a clear acceptance of the harm caused by gambling advertising, but in isolation it would be a grossly incoherent policy,” he said.
“Bigger, more visible and more prominent pitch-side gambling advertising is arguably more harmful. With relentless stadium advertising, club partnerships and league sponsorships, it’s currently impossible to watch a game in the top five English men’s leagues without seeing a gambling advert.
“This is unacceptable and willfully risks the health and lives of young fans and those of us who are trying to stop or stay in the game. That is why the government must end all gambling advertising in football – in all forms and at all levels.”