By Tony Attwood
The football industry, which consists of the clubs, the players, the non-playing staff, and the businesses and industry that get an economic boost from it, want football back, because it’s their living, their way of life, and in many cases, it makes a profit. By and large the fans want it to, but in terms of importance in the equation, we seem to have become increasingly irrelevant – except in one area… as will become clear in a moment.
The newspapers and blogs want football back because football, perhaps more than any other area, is where they are free to make up any nonsense they want, claim that someone else said it first and they are merely “reporting” it, and then fill space with a few lines of comment around which they can sell adverts. It costs nothing to make up the gibberish they print, but they can still sell advertising around it.
TV and radio want football back because it brings in an audience and makes them money from advertisers.
Advertisers want football back because advertising around football-related programmes reaches an otherwise hard to reach audience.
Put those groups together and we have a lot of people who want football back, and since they were doing well out of football before, they would rather like to keep on doing rather well in the future because that wayeveryone makes money.
And although it is true that some clubs are actually losing money, or are gambling on results in such a way that they are liable to go bust, these matters can be considered as mere detail. Clubs are not known for their altruism towards rival clubs.
So – that’s the scenario. But hidden within it is a problem. Because as the above points make clear, all the parties involved in football actually gain financially from football being played, so of course they want football to be played, no matter what the risks.
This is particularly true when we look at the relationship between TV and clubs. TV companies pay huge amounts of money for the right to cover games. Advertisers are anxious to get to the audience, and so are willing to pay more and more. As a result rival TV companies are willing to outbid each other for the rights to show matches. As a result, clubs get more.
But this advertising is not innocuous.
A couple of years back a survey by the BBC found that 95% of TV advertising breaks during live UK football matches feature at least one gambling advert, with one in five of the commercials broadcast, being gambling-related, rising to more than one in three in some games.
Now in response to these findings spokespeople for the gambling industry trotted out their normal line that the adverts have “limited impact” on gambling rates – what the companies were doing was trying to hold their percentage of the market and stop their customers going to rivals. And to be fair the figures suggest that is true.
However, because of the power of TV, which is not exerted by other media, gambling is treated by TV regulators in a specific way. Under an agreement within the industry, gambling advertisements can only be shown after 9pm, except in sporting events.
In an investigation carried out three years ago, 25 games involving British teams broadcast this season, including all the build-up chit chat, which were shown on BT Sport, Sky Sports and ITV were examined.
The games had 1,324 commercials and sponsorship announcements, of which 272 were for gambling – although sometimes it was much higher. In a match involving Everton for example on BT Sport, 40% of the adverts and sponsorship placements were for betting companies. This is what is funding football.
Then on 27 April this year, the biggest gambling firms agreed they would stop all TV and radio advertising during coronavirus lockdown for at least six weeks in response to a government letter asking for updates on what TV stations were doing about a possible increase in gambling during the lockdown. As a result, half of all gambling advertising on TV and radio has gone. Advertisers such as the National Lottery have not followed suit.
Interestingly Untold has not seen any rise in the level of gambling advertisements we get. In fact the level seems to be in decline. Maybe that’s because I never gamble.
But in economic terms football is a way of funding some TV stations such as BT Sport and Sky via gambling. The gambling companies pay the TV stations who pay the clubs who pay the players.
It is not like this everywhere – some countries from Belgium to Australia have banned all gambling adverts in live sport before 9pm and the Local Government Association has called for greater restrictions after a survey found that half of Premier League and Championship football teams were sponsored by betting companies.
This level of advertising is even found on the advertisement-free BBC, as a study by London’s Goldsmiths University found more than 250 separate gaming adverts on-screen during Match of the Day.
So in essence, no matter how much we enjoy our football, the game has to a fair degree become the battleground used by gambling firms anxious to keep their market share. We might follow football because we enjoy it, but our enjoyment has become a minor factor. It is primarily there for the benefit of gambling firms.
If gambling didn’t exist we presumably wouldn’t have Sky and BT Sports and we’d be back to the days of Match of the Day with its edited highlights, and complaints from newspapers that TV was editing football to make it look more attractive than it was in order to get a higher audience. Mind you, the way that commentators and pundits talk up games that is probably just as true now as it was then.
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