Premier League clubs in the UK have agreed to withdraw gambling sponsorship from the front of their matchday shirts, but many campaigners see the decision as just the “first step” and are pushing for even greater restrictions.
The Premier League would become the first sports league in the UK to take the voluntary measure, which will begin at the end of the 2025/26 season.
The globally popular league is “also working with other sports on the development of a new code for responsible gambling sponsorship”, it said in a statement.
Announcing the collective agreement on Thursday (April 13), the Premier League said the move follows an extensive consultation involving itself, its clubs and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) as part of the government’s ongoing review of gambling legislation.
Currently, eight out of the 20 Premier League teams have gambling companies as their front-of-shirt sponsors. The second most popular type of shirt sponsor is financial services, with five teams wearing shirts with banks as their main sponsor.
None of the current Premier League shirt sponsors are UK-based businesses.
The story is quite different in the lower leagues, which are more reliant on gambling sponsorships, many of which are from UK-based gambling companies. These leagues will not see any changes.
Lucy Frazer, secretary of state at the DCMS, “strongly” welcomed the news.
“While the vast majority of adults enjoy gambling without harm, we can't ignore the fact footballers are massive role models to kids. Our upcoming Gambling White Paper will upgrade punter protections and do more to protect those at risk of addiction,” she said in a public statement.
Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), similarly said he is “looking forward to the new code on responsible gambling sponsorship in sport, which should contain a whole range of other measures as part of the government’s imminent white paper”.
However, veteran gambling campaigner Carolyn Harris MP, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm (APPG), said the move is simply a “very welcome first step”.
Harris congratulated the league “for recognising the harm gambling can cause”, but added that “much more needs to be done, not just [to] front of shirt advertising, to prevent harm”.
Matt Gaskell, the clinical lead and consultant psychologist for the National Health Service (NHS) Northern Gambling Service, went a step further than Harris and questioned: “What is the evidence that shirt fronts are harmful but sleeves or (much larger) advertising hoardings and TV/online advertising around football is not?”
This sentiment was echoed by Darragh McGee, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath, who has done research on the impact of sports betting on young men, calling it a “progressive step” but “tempered by the fact that the sponsorship names will probably move from the center of the shirt to the sleeve”.
McGee told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that if perimeter advertising is allowed to continue on a large scale “the ban on sponsorship becomes a red herring — a good-news story designed to generate positive headlines for the gambling industry when the reality is that the status quo remains largely unaltered”.
When it comes to the legal issues around ending gambling partnerships, Richard Davies, senior associate at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “Despite sponsorship contracts usually including protections for clubs to get out of deals in the event of regulatory changes, the three-year transition period is an important measure for clubs from a commercial perspective.”
Davies explained when similar rules were imposed in Italy in 2019, the six-month notice period “caused a number of clubs issues with existing contractual commitments”.
“The financial ramifications of this ban would undoubtedly weigh heavier on smaller clubs, if imposed in the lower leagues, where club finances are more precarious and alternative sponsors harder to come by,” Davies said.
A potential front-of-shirt ban in the Premier League first came to light in February, with reports claiming the government would see the move as a replacement for action in the upcoming Gambling Act review white paper.
In Summer 2022, a vote on the same issue was supposed to be taken by Premier League clubs but was delayed.
In October 2022, Jon Don-Carolis, commercial director at Fulham Football Club, said his team, which had just been promoted to the Premier League, was expecting not to be able to sign a new gambling shirt sponsor from the 2023/2024 season.
The Premier League’s announcement on Twitter generated a lot of attention both in the UK and internationally.
Many Americans noted leagues in their country have recently allowed shirt sponsorships for the first time and some, such as the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS), already allow gambling shirt sponsors.
Additional reporting by David Altaner.