How the Restriction of Sports Betting Partnerships in Spanish Soccer Could Impact Other Markets.

Spain’s La Liga may be home to many of the world’s most famous athletes, but the illustrious soccer league has not avoided the economic impact caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, a new law that would greatly restrict gambling marketing is on the horizon, posing a threat to La Liga sponsorships, and potentially leading the charge for similar laws to be approved in neighbouring Fútbol-fanatical countries.

The new law, spearheaded by Alberto Garzon – Spain’s minister of consumer affairs – will prohibit all sports in Spain from entering into contracts with gambling firms regarding sponsorship of any kind. For La Liga, this would apply to major marketing areas, such as stadium, shirt, kit, and equipment sponsorships. Clubs have until May of 2021 to cancel any current contracts they may have with gambling companies.

La Liga president Javier Tebas has made his disapproval of the decree known, as he is concerned that clubs will lose a combined 90 million euros, per Reuters. With teams such as Valencia already reporting to have lost approximately 100 million euros due to COVID-19, Tebas is hoping that a compromise can be reached, which would see the new policy come into effect over the course of three years, lessening the financial impact of such significant changes.

Valencia's Carlos Soler, wearing Valencia's 'bwin' shirt sponsor logo. (Photo Credits: Valencia/Twitter).

The reason behind these new gambling sponsorship restrictions is the increase in gambling among younger demographics, specifically people aged 18-25. A letter from Garzon (obtained by Reuters) outlined this particular issue: wagering among this young demographic has increased from 29% to 40% in the last four years, with the amount being wagered increasing by 13% annually.

Currently, 35% of La Liga teams have sponsorships with gambling firms, the second-most represented industry behind clothing brands in the league. Their seven shirt sponsorships are most in the league, by far. La Liga itself also has a regional sponsorship with Sportium, a gambling company.

Spain is not the only European country actively reflecting on whether gambling companies and sports sponsorship can co-exist. The UK is reportedly in the midst of reassessing its 2005 Gambling Act, with a review to be published at some point in 2021. The industry is weary of the upcoming review, as it is likely to contain revisions and restrictions to the status quo, as opposed to relaxations on current policies. Of Premier League clubs, 40% have gambling shirt sponsorships this year, and between the Premier League and the EFL Championship (the UK’s second league), 26 of the 44 teams have gambling companies as shirt sponsors.

West Ham's James Collins pictured here sporting the prominent ‘betway’ logo, West Ham’s shirt sponsor since 2015. (Photo Credits: West Ham/Twitter).

As North American sports continue to embrace the exploding popularity of sports betting and open up new sponsorship categories as teams face revenue losses, it is worth keeping an eye on how European countries with a long history of sports gambling are tightening up their long-tenured policies. Soccer’s biggest stars attract young eyes, and the gambling logos on their chests seem to be the biggest and easiest target for policymakers. Whether these changes will have a positive impact on the social and health risks that gambling poses to young adults remains to be seen.