Just over a month after the National Hockey League’s (NHL) board of governors approved advertisements on players’ jerseys, beginning with the 2022-23 season, the Washington Capitals on Friday became the first franchise to announce a betting company as its jersey sponsor.
A 3-by-3.5-inch Caesars Sportsbook patch will appear on the upper right chest of the Capitals’ red home and blue third jerseys, in the first jersey sponsorship arrangement in one of the big four U.S. sports leagues involving a sports-betting company.
The NHL’s Jersey Advertising Program allows up to two jersey sponsors per team when separate sponsors appear on home and away jerseys.
The Capitals are still considering potential deals for their away white jerseys as sports-betting ads can only be worn at home by franchises in states where sports betting is legal, per NHL rules.
Although the Caesars deal is the first of its kind in the U.S., gambling shirt sponsorships have been commonplace across European soccer and other leagues for more than a decade.
But the NHL deal comes as Europe is moving away from the practice, with gambling sponsorships banned in Italy and prohibited in Spain as of September 1. The UK is also reconsidering the issue, with reports last week repeating expectations that an ongoing review of gambling regulations by the UK government is likely to include a ban on gambling ads on jerseys.
Although the deal is set to provide a new revenue stream for the Capitals, U.S. responsible gambling advocates raised concern at the further spread of sports-betting advertising.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), said one of the reasons the group was concerned about the deal is that there are no protections in place for District of Columbia residents who may develop gambling problems.
Whyte said the District of Columbia has no problem gambling resources, even though the district's 2019 sports-betting law requires the first $200,000 in tax revenue to go to the Department of Behavioral Health to fund these programs.
Currently, problem gambling resources in the District of Columbia are limited to posting the NCPG’s 1-800 number online. Whyte said the NCPG still covers 100 percent of the cost in D.C. of its toll-free number.
“Those who have the revenue also have the responsibility,” he said.
Brianne Doura-Schawohl, vice president of U.S. policy and strategic development with EPIC Risk Management, agreed that advertising was a serious issue that has led to serious consequences.
“We’ve recently been seeing the likes of Spain, Italy and just [on Thursday] in the UK [they] are coming out stating that they are likely to ban this type of advertising because it’s having significant negative impacts,” she said.
Currently, nine of the 20 English Premier League teams feature gambling ads on the front of their jerseys, with other teams including ads on the sleeves of their shirt.
Major League Soccer (MLS), the WNBA and NBA all allow teams to sell ads on their uniforms but currently the MLS is the only other U.S. professional sports league that allows gambling sponsorships on uniforms. Last year, DC United signed a deal with Caesars Sports for a logo on the right sleeve of both their home and away jerseys.
Jim Van Stone, Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s (MSE) president of business operations and chief commercial officer, told the Washington Post that the jerseys will be for sale with and without the Caesars Sportsbook patch.
MSE owns the Capitals along with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, WNBA’s Washington Mystics and Capital One Arena in downtown Washington. Caesars also operates a sportsbook in Capital One Arena, making it the first U.S. professional sports venue with a sportsbook inside its walls.
Doura-Schawohl told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that research suggests that advertising does have a powerful impact on gambling behavior, with more than a third of UK gamblers stating that advertising influences their play.
With 55,000 U.S. children with a gambling disorder, 400,000 adults with an addiction and many others experiencing harm, she said policymakers should be considering the impact of advertising, advertising saturation and content of advertising.
“Bans are happening because it's created and exacerbated harm, especially children and the vulnerable,” Doura-Schawohl said. “Isn't this something we want and should be prioritizing here in the U.S.?”