A recent meeting between English football’s elite powers and the government may have been intended as a precursor to sorting the financial mess caused by loss of attendance revenue in League One and League Two, but instead it threw up another concerning problem for many clubs.
Lower league football is in crisis and after accepting Project Big Picture, only to see it dismissed by other Premier League clubs, there is a strong acknowledgement to the need for reform. Part of that reform, so it seems, is to ban shirt sponsorship from gaming companies. That could include an overnight, blanket ban on firms emblazoning their logo on club shirts, and may even reach to training kits and other club apparel.
Eight of the 20 Premier League clubs currently have a gaming firm front and centre of their home kit, with many others having partners in the industry which provides income from other revenue streams such as pitch side hoardings or back of shirt. Further down the Football League, only eight of the 24 clubs that make up the Championship did not have a gaming client as their main club sponsor, which could result in any legislation being devastating for them.
Gaming companies pump billions into English football every year, generating huge revenues from their industry which they use to reinvest. Some clients even sponsor several teams at once, Paddy Power, for instance, worked with Huddersfield, Motherwell and Macclesfield and did not include their logo on those clubs shirts as part of the deal.
The real growth area for the industry is online suppliers, who provide a wide variety of games and markets for customers generating big sums. Online slot companies are offering prizes comparable with the big casinos in Las Vegas, which is an indication of how they can have such impact within the domestic game. The largest prize won in an online game was £13.2m, according to Gala Spins, demonstrating the depth of resources the industry has to use when chasing advertising and commercial opportunities. English football, at every level, does need a share of that money, especially when the government are refusing to help bail out clubs, but morally many question the dangers presented by such partners.
However, as with Formula One banning cigarette advertising, the industry will not go away if sponsors are removed from shirts, but clubs might. Even as far down as League One and Two, clubs boast gaming partners as back of shirt sponsors, providing much-needed income during the current financial climate. Without that, and with the wrangling over bailouts, clubs could easily go bust.
So where would that leave Liverpool? At the very top of the Premier League, there is no such reliance on gaming companies, with the Reds currently sponsored by Standard Chartered. Indeed, following the early curtailment of the link up with their previous gaming partner, a move they were joined in by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, there are no gaming clients on Liverpool’s books at all. Across the big six, gaming clients do not have a presence, which is as much an indication of the marketing power of those clubs as anything – they can pick and choose clients far more carefully.
As a club that has always had a strong moral compass, Liverpool do well to avoid such relationships, but must also be acutely aware of the impact tighter legislation could have on the future of clubs around them, such as fellow Premier League side Fulham. The team that supplied Andy Robertson, Hull City have a gaming sponsor on their shirt and despite turning a front of shirt sponsor down, the club’s Carabao Cup opponents Lincoln City have a gaming client on the back of their shirts.
Those teams may have had direct dealings with Jürgen Klopp’s side, but they are just three amongst many, many others,