A lot of the attention on Non-League football is focussed on the National League. There is a lot more going on though and now BetVictor will be the main sponsor of the Southern League, Northern Premier League and the Isthmian League. The decision has caused a fair deal of controversy as concerns rise over the relationship between football and gambling companies.
The deal is the first time that the three leagues have all been sponsored by one brand. It’s delighted Mark Harris who is the chairman of the Northern Premier League. He says that it is “excellent news” for Non-League football.
Attracting such a high-profile sponsor is also a major boost for Non-League football which Harris describes as “the toughest sponsorship market probably on record.” He added that “sponsors don’t grow on trees and they certainly don’t queue up to get involved with you.” The deal with BetVictor is one that the chairman feels “recognises what we’re trying to do at our level of the game.”
His belief is that by having Bet Victor as the one brand sponsor it will help their “alliance strategy” for the three leagues. That’s becoming more important than ever as clubs move from one division to another more frequently. Their aim is to “make it as seamless as possible for clubs when they do get moved.”
Sponsorship has long been an issue in non-league football. The 1970s saw Southern League Premier Division side Kettering Town introduce shirt sponsorship as they advertised ‘Kettering Tyres.’ The move which has since raised billions of pounds for clubs almost saw the club thrown out of the league for such a daring move.
Non-league football often finds it difficult to attract major sponsors. Whereas the National League now has regular coverage of its matches, that’s not the case for Step 3 and 4 non-leaguers. They don’t have a broadcast partner, and this affects the level of financial help the clubs receive.
To get themselves on television usually requires an FA Cup run. That’s been the case this season with Maldon & Tiptree due to be on television for their FA Cup second round tie. Isthmian League club Chichester City had the luck to receive a first-round bye in this season’s FA Cup and now take on Tranmere or Wycombe away in the second round.
The signing of a sponsorship deal with a betting company surprises some considering the rules banning players, managers, match officials and club staff re gambling. They are banned from placing bets on football, yet it’s ok for their clubs to be receiving sponsorship from gambling companies.
However, revenue from betting companies is becoming an important part of the sponsorship that football clubs are receiving. The National League is sponsored by LV Bet and the English Football League has a sponsorship deal with SkyBet.
Premier League sides are now receiving a great deal of income from betting companies. If it’s not shirt or sleeve sponsorship, teams have partnership deals with such companies. This enables fans to be able to be placing bets when attending football matches.
The Northern Premier League chairman accepts that some negative reaction about what is an “emotive subject” was going to happen. He stressed that the decision to link up with BetVictor had been “discussed at length by the board.” They concluded that “there are many things in life that can be negative.” Would for example being sponsored by a confectionary brand be criticised as it could lead to obesity?
Mr Harris stressed that both the leagues and BetVictor have a “contractual responsibility” to protect minors and vulnerable people. There won’t be any betting branding at academies or youth orientated activities. There have also been talks held with gambling charities regarding this matter.
Nick Robinson is the chairman of the Isthmian League and this new sponsorship deal ties in with a long-held opinion of his. “We can’t please all of the people all of the time,” he says. There will be plenty of restrictions based on the sponsorship deal with BetVictor. In fact, the Isthmian League chairman has described BetVictor as “the most strictly regulated sponsors that we have ever had.”
Restrictions include no logos being placed on ground board or adverts in programmes. Nor will the league sponsor’s name be put on club passes. Keen to protect youngsters, they will now have separate websites for their youth and development leagues. Robinson added that: “The league has not just taken the money because it is there, we are going to do things in a very responsible and adult way.”
One club chairman recently contacted him regarding a gambling problem a family member had. He wasn’t happy about the link up with BetVictor and had to be talked out of quitting his club. Another club admitted that they didn’t agree with the deal but could see it was a decision made for the good of the majority of league members.
He stressed that the sponsorship money received will help all the 82 clubs that play in the Isthmian League. This includes ensuring that the clubs don’t have to pay for footballs or pay their liability insurance themselves. The BetVictor deal is a welcome one as the amount being given to clubs has fallen in the last couple of years due to a lack of funds.
One concerned club chairman is Paul Dipre from Carshalton Athletic. He admits to being “very concerned” about the new sponsorship deal and is sure “there are lots of sponsors” from other fields who would have been a “much more ethical choice.”.
His club has previously turned down financial offers from online betting companies due to the “poverty and misery” gambling has caused people. With thousands of youngsters using their ground, Dipre has no desire to be involved in advertising online gambling. He says that if he’s not required to promote or advertise an online gambling company, particularly to youngsters, then “I won’t have a big problem with it.”
This isn’t a problem that is likely to go away anytime soon. Links continue to grow between football and betting companies. If the importance of stressing the need to gamble responsibly is continued, then that will appease some critics. If the financial help continues to help clubs that need investment, then this growing relationship will continue to flourish.