Insider Sport’s Year in Review: January – February

As we approach the end of 2020, Insider Sport is looking back at the top stories from each month of what has been a turbulent year.

At the start of the year, the relationship between sports clubs and betting operators was thrust under the spotlight, setting the tone for 2020 as gambling campaigners took their protests to parliament’s doorstep. Whilst over the pond in the US, the NFL loosened regulations on such partnerships.

Kicking off the year, Gambling campaigning groups Gambling With Lives and The Big Step penned an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, stating that sponsored partnerships with betting companies should be banned ahead of the 2005 Gambling Act review which underpinned the year.

Incidentally, in the same month, Wycombe Wanderers striker Scott Kashket was issued a two month suspension and fined by the FA after admitting to placing over 180 bets on football matches, and Hamilton Academical coach Brian Rice also admitted to breaching the Scottish FA’s gambling rules.

The Scottish FA called time on its partnership with William HIll later in February after assessing the landscape. The long-running association began almost a decade ago in 2011, with the bookmaker sponsoring the national team and the Scottish Cup. Everton FC also chose to terminate its contract with SportPesa after reviewing its commercial strategy.

As is evident from these few stories, the spotlight was brightly shining on gambling’s role within the football ecosystem in the UK – with more of a focus, and subsequent scrutiny, placed upon overall integrity and the saturation of betting sponsorships.

On the other hand, however, Paddy Power used its stature as a force for good and bolstered its campaign to ‘unsponsor football’ through the ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign.

Newport County and Macclesfield Town, both of which are partnered with the Irish bookmaker, locked horns in the League Two with the match rebranded as the ‘Unsponsored Derby’. Derby County’s new signing Wayne Rooney also launched a responsible gambling campaign series – ‘Stay In Control’ – in conjunction with principal sponsor 32Red.

While this sponsorship stunt resulted in somewhat of a controversial reaction, it drew attention to the positive impact that gambling companies could have.

Elsewhere, in tennis, Fitzdares announced it would be donating all winnings from the Australian Open 2020 to the Red Cross. CEO William Woodham called upon the wider sports and betting industries to support victims and emergency services countering the bush fires impacting the Gold Coast of Australia.

This followed on from the news that Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios had pledged to donate $200 to the bushfire crisis for every ace he served throughout the season. Doubts were cast over the Grand Slam event due to the poor air quality but the tournament went ahead, with athletes and sponsors alike making sizeable contributions to the cause.

Fast forward one month to February and the National Football League (NFL) amended its league policy and relaxed regulations on betting sponsors. Teams were permitted to partner with sportsbook sponsors and display signage in the stadiums, subject to certain stipulations. The NFL also allowed clubs in legalised betting jurisdictions to offer betting lounges in order to showcase mobile betting options.

Online gambling brand LeTou’s CEO Paul Fox told Insider Sport that ‘American football is perfectly suited towards gambling’.

He explained: “Everyone knows that the NFL is the most watched sport in the US and that the league has been the most anti-gambling of the major sports. It’s no secret that people have been finding ways to bet on it anyway since the NFL’s inception and legalising it will lead to more direct revenue for the league.

“Instead of trying to fight it and act like it doesn’t exist, they should embrace it which will lead to more opportunity. You’ve just got to look at all the increased income it’s brought to football in Europe.”

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