50 Percent of EPL Jersey Sponsors Are Now Sports Betting Operators, Most Focused on Unregulated Asian Markets

Posted on: July 24, 2019, 07:34h. 

Last updated on: July 24, 2019, 02:03h.

English Premiere League teams are still winning big with bookies, but with brands many domestic fans have barely heard of.

EPL sponsorship
English soccer is awash with unfamiliar betting brands like Aston Villas sponsor W88, which is licensed in the Philippines and uses the EPL as a platform to target the hard-to-reach Chinese black market. (Image: Aston Villa/W88)

The elite soccer league will enjoy a tenth successive record-breaking year of revenues from jersey sponsorship when the teams kick off in three and a half weeks — and exactly 50 percent of those teams will come from betting companies.

In the Championship, English soccer’s second tier, 17 out of 24 teams will wear the logos of betting companies next season.

The EPL’s 20 teams will collectively score $435.8 million from jersey sponsorship — that’s up $41.8 million from last year.

In terms of dollar-spend, bookies occupy the middle-ground among EPL clubs. The biggest spender from the industry is Malta-based Betway, which has a $12.5 million deal with West Ham, closely followed by Kenya’s Sportpesa, which has a $12 million deal with Everton.

EPL: Springboard to China

But of the EPL’s ten jersey sponsors, it’s notable that just three brands, Betway, Dafabet and Sportsbet.io, are directly licensed by the UK Gambling Commission.

Some, like Sportpesa operate indirectly in the UK through the white-label system, where a website is designed to look and feel like a company or brand, but the contents and services provided on the website are operated and managed by another company. Thus, the UK facing “Sportpesa” website is managed and operated under the license of TGP Europe Limited.

But most companies are focusing on the largely unregulated markets of Asia, using the EPL’s global reach to get their brand seen by markets like China, where offering and marketing gambling is strictly illegal.

Even Mansionbet, which has a UK license and a long history of EPL sponsorship, is pushing its Asian-facing brand, M88, which uses the tagline “Where Asia Plays” and is unavailable to UK customers because it has no UK licence.

Meanwhile, many of the other Asian facing brands — such as Fun88 (Newcastle), W88 (Aston Villa), Dafabet (Norwich) and Lovebet (Burnley) — have domestic fans scratching their heads wondering just who they are.

W88, for example, is (lightly) licensed and regulated in the Philippines, a sign that it targets the illegal Chinese markets. While Dafabet has a UK and Irish license and is based in the Isle of Man, it markets itself as the “Most Secure Betting Company in Asia” and does most of its business under license from the Philippines’ Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.

Dubious Relationships

Much is made of English soccer’s uneasy relationship with gambling companies, especially when everyone involved in the sport is banned from betting on games. But this list of jersey sponsors also raises questions about the sport’s willingness to do business with companies actively engaged in black-market operations.

Speaking to The Guardian this week, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson was incensed that the UK gambling industry had committed to reducing the amount of gambling advertising in soccer, but jersey sponsorship had actually increased.

“The time for warm words is over,” he said. “Either the industry is going to act in good faith, or we will need stricter regulation of gambling advertising – starting with a ban on football shirt sponsorship.”

But what Watson fails to realize it that very few of this year’s EPL sponsors are representatives of the UK gambling industry at all.