Sport and gaming have always been closely linked. Whether it is going to the races, watching a match on television or the advertising hoardings at live sport events, it is rarely far from the action.
The early 2000s saw a series of beer and alcohol brands sponsoring sports teams, particularly in the English Premier League.
Over the past decade those brands have gradually been replaced by betting and gaming companies, with international brands viewing it as a great opportunity to gain eyeballs around the world.
According to the Daily Mail, these sponsorship deals are worth a combined £47.3m to the Premier League this season, including the partnership that our company, LeTou, started with Swansea City in the summer.
Why are so many international companies getting involved in football shirt sponsorship?
Associating your brand with a reputable sports team offers credibility, which can be especially important for gaming companies.
The English Premier League is one of the most watched sports leagues in the world and gives brands an international presence unlike any other. This has led to a lot of the gaming companies that sponsor Premier League clubs coming from outside of the UK.
Recent years has seen a number of Asian brands with limited prior presence in the UK turning to shirt sponsorships, such as ourselves.
But a recent announcement from the Labour party, which has claimed it will ban football clubs from signing shirt sponsorships with gaming companies if it comes to power, has created an uncertain future.
I can understand why the Labour party are looking to make a statement to help reduce gambling addiction in this country, and I believe that the industry and government must come together to protect those most vulnerable.
It would be beneficial for big players in the gaming industry to meet with the government and have an honest conversation about gaming in the UK.
At LeTou, we’ve already made some positive steps and we understand the importance of advertising to the right people.
Measures are in place to ensure that is the case, for example; having no logo on children’s shirts, and we would welcome other suggestions.
Creating a ‘face’ for international brands
International brands that sponsor football clubs can do a lot more to create a positive association for the industry. They are often criticised for being faceless; simply writing a cheque, putting their name on the shirt and having no further links with the club.
That is why we have ensured that our deal is able to benefit the local community, instead of just focusing on expanding our presence in an overseas market.
One of the first things that I did when we became the shirt sponsors of Swansea City was to donate our entire corporate hospitality allocation and season tickets to two local charities; Shelter Cymru and Disability Sport Wales.
This decision was not made to stand out, nor did we feel it was necessary to justify our presence, it was about showing that we care about the clubs that we work with.
It has been brilliant to see the faces of the local people that have benefited from this in the early months of the season.
I have family from Swansea and have long considered them to be my Premier League team and that was a big part of what attracted me to this great club.
For us, this deal has helped to build the LeTou brand on an international level, having long been established as a major gaming company in Asia.
However, we have also engaged with Swansea City fans in the UK to show them that we are committed to their club moving forward.
It would be good to see some of the other sponsors get more involved in the activity and work of the clubs that they partner with.
In many other industries you see sports clubs and suppliers working together in partnership to build awareness of both brands, but also to make a difference, and more gaming companies should do this too.
What is next for the future of sports betting partnerships?
It remains to be seen if the Labour party will be elected and introduce a ban on football shirt sponsorships.
Before any decisions are made, I would welcome the opportunity to speak to the government because together we can make a real difference.
Sport and gaming have always been closely linked and we can help to build a positive association between the two moving forward, if we are given the chance to discuss these issues.
Opinion written by Paul Fox, chief executive officer of Asian-facing betting operator LeTou.