English Football League Clubs Took Cut of Fans’ SkyBet Losses

Posted on: September 29, 2022, 11:31h. 

Last updated on: September 30, 2022, 04:19h.

Some English soccer clubs acted as affiliate marketers for SkyBet, accepting a percentage of their fans’ gambling losses, The Guardian has discovered. These revenue-sharing partnerships between English Football League clubs and the bookmaker were discontinued at the start of the 2019-2020 season.

Accrington Stanley
Accrington Stanley, above, made £5,000 in one year from an affiliate deal with SkyBet, according to documents seen by The Guardian. (Image: Accrington Stanley)

“I’ve been trying to prove this for the best part of four years, and yesterday it fell into my lap,” tweeted Rob Davies, the story’s author Wednesday.

“Your club is incentivized to encourage you to lose money,” he concluded. “If you ruin your family on SkyBet, the club you’ve given your love (and cash) to takes a cut.”

Smoking Gun

The smoking gun is a copy of Accrington Stanley’s commercial revenue report, according to Davies. The club plies its trade in League One, the third tier of English soccer. The report outlines revenues it was entitled to through EFL Digital, a division of the English Football League (EFL).

These include a “share of losses […] from accounts registered in your club name to Sky Bet through our affiliate partnership.”

The EFL comprises tiers two to four of English soccer and does not include the English Premier League.

Bad Optics

It’s bad optics for English soccer at a time when its financial partnerships with the gambling industry are part of the public agenda. At the same time, clubs have been accused of financially exploiting their fans through so-called fan token partnerships and other crypto schemes.

Moreover, most casual bettors tend to back their own team. This means the clubs would likely have received more money from the affiliate scheme when they lost games.

It is unknown if the teams had similar terms on wins, or whether their percentages for victories was the same as losses.

Of course, losing is normally a highly unprofitable strategy for a soccer team.

Accrington Stanley, a club most famous for being referenced in a British TV spot for milk in the 1980s, made £5,000 (US$5,500) in one year from the scheme, according to the report. A Premier League club, whose supporters in the UK might total several million, could be looking at a significant sum if similar deals existed in the topflight.

The Guardian previously asked each EPL club directly whether they benefited from gambling affiliate schemes. Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United said they didn’t. The rest declined to comment or didn’t respond.

“When the EFL and SkyBet renewed its longstanding partnership for the 2019-20 season, we placed a greater focus on putting safer gambling at the heart of the agreement,” the EFL said in a statement to The Guardian. “As a result, the previous affiliate scheme was discontinued.

“While some clubs do receive revenue from legacy sign-ups that occurred prior to the new agreement, the affiliate scheme in place was phased out, and all sign-up links via EFL Digital channels have been removed,” the spokesperson added.