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UK Bookmakers to Share Broadcasting Rights

January 22, 2020

- Grant Whittington

United Kingdom sportsbooks Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Coral have stated that they’re prepared to back out of a 2017 deal, worth almost $1 billion, that gave them exclusive broadcasting rights on specific FA Cup and other Football matches.

”Bet-to-View” Football

This news coms after an outcry over the broadcasting of the FA Cup Third Round. Just 2 of the games were shown on free-to-air national television courtesy of the BBC, while another 4 were broadcast on the subscription-based channel BT Sports.

By contrast, a staggering 23 Third Round games were live-streamed on Bet365 on a “bet-to-view” basis. Customers had to have bet or deposited at least £5 within the past 24 hours in order to watch the matches. At Betfair the rules were slightly less strict; as long as a registered member had funds in their account, they could see the FA Cup action.

The other 5 bookmakers mentioned above have similar regulations in place, as part of the $979 million (£750 million) deal that they struck with sports marketing powerhouse IMG. This company bought the international FA Cup betting rights from the Football Association, paying £3.1 million or $4 million a year for them.

Packages of broadcasting rights are then sold on by IMG; in addition to the £750 million deal with the 7 British betting operators, they have sold similar streaming privileges to several international sportsbooks.

Concern Over Football’s Gamblification

This situation caused considerable concern among psychologists, politicians and other gambling industry critics and proponents of responsible betting. Bath University’s Dr Darrah McGee, who has done extensive research into the detrimental effects of excessive gambling on men’s health, labelled the “bet-to-view” policy as an alarming “gamification” of Football.

The FA broke ties with gambling sponsors in the May of 2017, when problems arose from its overreliance on high-profile sponsoring deals from betting operators. Their deal with IMG flies in the face of their self-proclaimed principles, says Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative Party leader who is very involved in gambling reform.

The Third Round is supposed to be used as an awareness-raising platform for the FA’s mental health campaign, and the fact that the advertisements were seen by so few people raised particular ire. Lawmakers even brought up the issue in parliament, threatening to scrap the £30 million in taxes that the FA gets every year. Sports Minister Nigel Adams said the government had asked the FA to look at the deal again and see if parts could be rescinded.

McGee said the bookmakers had become gatekeepers for Football fans, and the FA defended their decision by saying the deal had been put into place before they rethought their sponsorship agreements. Smith, however, said that this was no excuse and that they should have reviewed and cancelled the broadcasting contract while Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Nicky Morgan tweeted her hope that the FA would reconsider their arrangement.

A Change in Attitude

The furore over the bookmakers’ exclusive streaming rights has caused the gambling industry to change its position. In an official statement, Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chairman Brigid Simmons announced that the body’s members are happy for IMG to offer the rights to any appropriate organisation so that the public could view matches for free, with immediate effect.

Simmons’ statement was supported by all 7 of the UK betting companies involved in the IMG deal, according to the BGC. The FA said that it will reconsider the agreement in 2024, when the current contract expires. In the meantime, the UK betting operators will continue their “bet-per-view” policy but will also allow the FA to stream the matches free from its own website. At a time when further regulatory clampdowns are being considered, and has made an offer of its own, they seem understandably eager to avoid any further controversy

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