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UK LEGAL COMMENT


Sports sponsorship – will the UK follow Spain’s example?


Sponsorship of sports kits has always been a controversial topic, with logos on football shirts usually at the forefront – Northridge Law’s Melanie Ellis scrutinises a tricky topic


I


n 1972, the FA banned any sponsor logos from appearing on football kits. But, as they had failed to put the ban into writing, Kettering Town decided to chance their luck and emblazoned the logo of local company Kettering Tyres across its shirts for a game against Bath


City in January 1976. The FA ordered the logo removed, in response to which the club removed the fi nal four letters leaving “Kettering T” on the kits, claiming this was just a shortened version of the club name. The FA was unimpressed by this creative solution and threatened the club with a £1,000 fi ne, which saw the logo removed entirely - clearly the value of shirt sponsorships had not quite reached today’s levels. By the following year, pressure from clubs, some threatening


to break away and form their own league, forced the FA to lift the ban. Speaking in 1977, Harold Thompson, then chairman of the FA, stated that “nothing can be worn that may be regarded as distasteful or morally unethical”. Thompson’s restriction on immoral advertising continues, with the FA rules prohibiting


the appearance on any item of kit any “ethically or morally offensive message”. Notably, the advertising of tobacco products by football clubs is banned completely, along with the promotion of political or religious messages. Turning to the present day, the Spanish Government has


submitted a draft decree to the European Commission, which would amend the country’s laws to ban gambling operators from sponsoring sports kits. The possibility of the UK following suit has increased, following recent recommendations from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry (the Select Committee) and the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). One of the key recommendations of the Select Committee is that gambling operators should no longer be allowed to advertise on the kits of sports teams. Further, they recommended that there should be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or venues. This is a far more moderate approach than the complete ban on gambling advertising proposed by the APPG, and one which stands more chance of being adopted by the Government. The Select Committee was appointed in June 2019 to consider oral and written evidence, then report to the House of Lords on the question of how harmful gambling is and what can be done to address that harm. One of the issues it focussed on from the outset was the “gamblifi cation” of sport, considering the “risks associated with the increasingly close relationships between betting operators and sports leagues, broadcasters and clubs”. With this leading question as their starting point, it is perhaps not surprising that the members of the Select Committee reached the conclusion they did. In the 19/20 season, Premier League shirt sponsorships


were worth a record total of £349m and, of that, gambling sponsors made up £62m. Half of the Premier League team shirts were sponsored by gambling operators, although the ten brands being advertised are owned by just fi ve different companies. The rate of gambling sponsorship was even higher in the Championship, with 17 of the 24 clubs attracting gambling sponsors. A ban would have a signifi cant impact on both sports teams and gambling operators, although the Select Committee recommended that restrictions should not affect clubs below the Premier League before 2023, with a similar fl exibility for other sports. Concerns about gambling sponsorship of sports teams focus on the potential for harm to children and vulnerable adults. Football is watched and played by millions of children who look up to their idols, many of whom wear


28 AUGUST 2020


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