I am a great believer in sponsorships, particularly sports sponsorship. My companies have sponsored some of the biggest names globally in their respective codes. Warwick was Everton’s official FA Cup sponsor and more recently, Warwick was the proud sponsor of the legendary Stormers and Western Province rugby franchise, which enjoys the biggest following globally. Less high profile, Warwick has been the biggest sponsor of South African bowls nationally for 20 years and golf clubs for a decade. In fact, we have some 500 advertising boards at important venues around South Africa, together with an extensive digital footprint.
Sports sponsorship is big business, and along with advertising, keeps global sport alive. Yet, not enough of the huge revenue generated by sports sponsorship filters down to grassroots and in my view, it must become a condition of any major sponsorship that a percentage is to be distributed to developing the respective code at grassroots community level.
It’s beyond time for top-flight professional sportspeople to do far more for their communities too. Nobody begrudges Kylian Mbappé his £100million a year salary at PSG, but isn’t it time that clubs spend a proportionate amount on sports development at community level?
There are some iconic sports sponsorships, but arguably the most inspiring is that of FC Barcelona’s ‘sponsorship’ of UNICEF, which in effect, provides free advertising to the United Nations Children’s Fund and pays it for the privilege.
But there’s a worrying trend in sports sponsorship that needs to be nipped in the bud before it grows of out control and that is gambling. Believe it or not, in 2021 no less than eight English Premiership clubs had gambling shirt sponsors. In 2017 my own club, Everton, contracted with an international gambling company too as its main shirt sponsor but cut short its relationship in 2020. At the time, Everton’s CEO commented that “in an ideal world, the team would not be sponsored by a gambling company”, adding that Everton did not want to be responsible for irresponsible gambling. While this is a rather effete response, the club is to be given credit for eventually making the right decision, yet it still has three gambling companies advertising on its perimeter boards.
Surely it’s time for the Football Association and the Premiership (and others globally) to call time on gambling sponsorship across the board? At one time it was unthinkable that tobacco sponsorship would be banned from Formula One motor racing. But even without Marlboro, F1 has flourished in every respect. Some will raise legitimate questions about global alcohol companies sponsoring FIFA world cups and EUFA championships, but there are some responsible age and time restrictions on such advertising.
In contrast to tobacco and alcohol sponsorship, gambling sponsorship has become a pervasive free-for-all beamed directly into the homes of young and old, rich and poor in every corner of the globe. Not only this, merchandising is a fundamental element of the commercial business model of major sporting codes and by so doing, we ourselves have become walking human advertisements for gambling companies, with all the ‘demonstration’ effect on our kids. Given the influence the beautiful game has on the lives of hundreds of millions across the globe contrasted with the corrosive addictive impact gambling has on the lives of countless millions, it’s time to turn off the gambling sponsorship tap and rather work with companies committed to a better future for humanity.