In some respects, it’s a match made in heaven. On one side, rugby teams with a solid core of supporters looking for a sponsor who’s ready to invest.
On the other, cash-rich gambling companies involved in sports betting or casino games or both, want exposure for their brand, especially among sports fans, and are willing to pay handsomely for it.
Of course, it’s not just rugby that attracts the online bookies and casinos with their sponsorship deals. This sector has been one of the main sponsors in everything from soccer to snooker over the past decade.
In fact, where teams and tournaments were synonymous with cigarette brands in the 1970s and 80s, they are as closely associated with gambling companies today.
Controversial bed mates
Therein, of course, lies the problem. First, it was the cigarette brands, then the beers, and now the gambling companies have moved in.
You can see why some suggest sports are being asked to sell themselves down the river, and why some clubs are reluctant to take the sports dollars offered by the gambling companies. After all, professional athletes are role models for youngsters.
The controversy surrounding gambling companies sponsoring sports teams is coming to a head in the UK, where the English Premier League has just agreed to implement a voluntary ban on front of shirt sponsorship.
Where the most powerful league leads, others tend to follow. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of English rugby union clubs have at least some form of sponsorship from gambling companies providing them with financial backing.
Australian rugby and the sponsorship debate
The rugby scene in Australia is facing the same challenges. Some assume that the lack of any regulated online gambling infrastructure means the betting companies are less interested in the Australian market.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, Australians are famous for enjoying a wager, whether it’s betting on the rugby or putting a dollar into the pokies.
As you can see from www.gambleonlineaustralia.com, there are dozens of online gambling providers who have been fighting for a larger piece of the Australian market for years, many of whom are eager to grab any sponsorship opportunities that are going.
For example, in 2015 the Brumbies entered into a six-year sponsorship deal with Aquis as their main shirt sponsor. That expired last year, and while they no longer have a gambling firm as their main sponsor, they still list entertainment and betting TABCORP as a partner.
Elsewhere in Australian sport, some teams are choosing to distance themselves from these kinds of sponsorship deals.
Two NRL clubs have joined nine other teams from diverse sports across New South Wales in an alliance called ‘Reclaim the Game‘ that is looking to sever the connection between sport and gambling.
Looking at the wider global context, that seems unrealistic. Betting on rugby is more popular today among casual fans than it has ever been, and the same can be said for other sports, including football and cricket.
Ultimately, market forces are likely to win the day, and betting companies will remain part of the sponsorship landscape until legislation rules otherwise.