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Would Rugby League "struggle" without Betfred as Shaun Wane argues?


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Rugby league once prided itself on not taking any money from betting companies. But the disaster of the Stobart deal has opened up the game to Betfred. In the past five years they’ve secured naming rights for Super League, Championship, League 1, Challenge Cup, Women’s and Wheelchair game.

All sports have to confront this trade offs that come with signing up to gambling sponsors. Campaigners are winning the battle in football, with clubs expected to impose a voluntary ban on shirt sponsorship in the Premier League soon. 

Those who run RL on the other hand argue that Betfred are a positive influence on society. Shaun Wane for example recently said that he would like to win the World Cup for Fred Done this year to thank him for funding the game. At the same time, he admitted that the game would "struggle" without his money. 

Their takeover of the game have this has been done without a debate on the assumption that they pay overs for sponsorship – and a skint sport needs all the money it can get. However the announcement that the England side will be sponsored by Betfred, in a home World Cup on the BBC, has set alarm bells ringing. Are we really in such a poor place that nobody else fancied sponsoring us this year?

There are three questions I think emerge from this. The first is how wise is it to have a single sponsor take every naming right we have? The second is whether the fact that it is a gambling company has an impact on the image of the game? For example, where does this fit with Dutton’s stated aim that this World Cup can mirror the spirit of the women’s game, in promoting family values etc. The third question is one that is out of our hands. What happens to the sport when the government reviews gambling legislation around advertising?

I’ve put some thoughts down on this for those that are interested. I hope we at least start to debate Betfred’s takeover of the game and what the trade offs are. As ever, all thoughts, criticism and alternative views are welcome!

https://thecritic.co.uk/does-rugby-league-have-a-gambling-problem/

 

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I think it's appalling and saddening to see a betting company logo plastered over the front of the England shirt.

I'm looking forward to having a look at your piece, Tides. I suspect that I shall probably agree with some of what you say.

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We absolutely would struggle. It's probably not within the remit of The Critic to venture beyond somehow managing to blame Tony Blair for our current situation but some introspection - which hopefully IMG will bring - about quite why we are so out of step with what sponsors want would be helpful. It's not just that it's gambling, it's that it's one sponsor for everything.

Makes us look cheap.

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Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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Sponsorship is a perpetual problem for RL and the likes of Betfred have simply replaced the fags and drink sponsorships of yesteryear. The game has to broaden its appeal to attract higher value sponsors but until it manages to do that then I think its fair to say it would struggle without betting companies. If the sport had decent offers from other sectors then I'm sure it would consider them but the fact is they obviously don't.

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3 minutes ago, Damien said:

Sponsorship is a perpetual problem for RL and the likes of Betfred have simply replaced the fags and drink sponsorships of yesteryear. The game has to broaden its appeal to attract higher value sponsors but until it manages to do that then I think its fair to say it would struggle without betting companies. If the sport had decent offers from other sectors then I'm sure it would consider them but the fact is they obviously don't.

All the 'newer' elements such as the women's, wheelchair etc could be the catalyst for that, but we lumped them in with Fred.

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Wane is right, but that's a damning indictement of the sport's poor commercial performance more than anything else. 

The broader concern for me is not that the sport has betting partnerships (I'm personally fine with sports betting and I don't think the Betfred arrangement is particularly excessive when it comes to brand activations), but more that the RFL / SLE appears to have bet the entire farm on Fred Done. Not only does that leave the sport vulnerable to any changes in regulation that might affect the whole betting industry, but it also leaves them vulnerable to the whims of one man. 

So that brings us to why the RFL/SLE is so heavily reliant on Betfred, and seemingly struggling to attract other partners that are willing to pay. Is it poor salesmanship? Is it that the value or proposition they offer to sponsors is poor? Is it that they've been poor at looking after and retaining commercial partners? Is it that other sponsors take a look and go "nah"? 

What we (and other sports) offer to betting companies is also something that many other brands don't need, and that's a sense of acceptability. People object to betting and even despite it's growth, it's still seen as something of a "underworld" in many circles, so having the Betfred logo on the England shirt (and everywhere else) helps it to be more accepted.

That is a similar factor behind football clubs jumping into bed with cyrptocurrency brands and we need to be careful with the notion that football has suddenly earned a moral conscience when it comes to betting and gambling. Whilst the narrative does seem to be moving away from betting partnerships, most clubs in the last two years have partnered with some very questionable crypto schemes - some of whom are very much on the wrong side of regulators in this country

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7 minutes ago, RigbyLuger said:

All the 'newer' elements such as the women's, wheelchair etc could be the catalyst for that, but we lumped them in with Fred.

Yes, that's a really good point. These should have been greenfield clean starts where the game could have attempted to position itself differently. Instead the sport has gone for the lazy, safe option whether that is sponsorship or simply lumping in the women's game with the men with double headers etc. Its just repeating the same mistakes and very poor.

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I don't have a problem with Betfred. They are a good old-fashioned bookie that do things the right way.

Incidentally, Fred & Peter Done are fifth on the Sunday Times 2022 tax list, paying a combined £170 million last year. 

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If we may backtrack for a moment?

Is Betfred's willingness to part with large sums of money because Fred Done is personally attached to Rugby League? Is he throwing money at us, at least in part, because he likes the sport?

Because Fred Done is 79. With the greatest of respect he isn't going to be here for all that much longer.

Where would we be as a sport if (when) Fred shuffles off and the people that take the company on don't necessarily feel the same way?

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Rugby League has had sponsors previously that aren’t really acceptable in this day and age (Silk Cut, Stones, Tetley’s etc). Betfred and betting sponsorship in general will go the same way eventually. 

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1 minute ago, Man of Kent said:

I don't have a problem with Betfred. They are a good old-fashioned bookie that do things the right way.

Incidentally, Fred & Peter Done are fifth on the Sunday Times 2022 tax list, paying a combined £170 million last year. 

The trouble is the sport is it only takes a ban on gambling sponsorship, as the sport only know too well with the previous ban on cigarette sponsorship, for the sport to be left with no major sponsor. Its not healthy to be so dependent.

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13 minutes ago, Damien said:

Sponsorship is a perpetual problem for RL and the likes of Betfred have simply replaced the fags and drink sponsorships of yesteryear. The game has to broaden its appeal to attract higher value sponsors but until it manages to do that then I think its fair to say it would struggle without betting companies. If the sport had decent offers from other sectors then I'm sure it would consider them but the fact is they obviously don't.

In fairness, we did have a period where the sport was able to attract a decent breadth of partners, even if only on short-term deals. We've had brands from FMCG (Kellogs, Batchelors, Irn-Bru, Gillette, various breweries), utilties (Powergen, First Utility), automotive (Dacia, Isuzu, Vavoline, Falken Tyres, Hertz), retail (Co-op, Specsavers, Moss Bros), tech (Elonex, GoDaddy, Alcatel) as well as brands like Dewalt, Tissot or Brut. 

Whilst most of those will be fairly small deals in the grand scheme if things, it is somewhat alarming that we seem to have lots so much diversity in the sponsorship portfolio at a central level.

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8 minutes ago, DavidM said:

God knows what Darts would do 

Go all in on crypto.

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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48 minutes ago, gingerjon said:

We absolutely would struggle. It's probably not within the remit of The Critic to venture beyond somehow managing to blame Tony Blair for our current situation but some introspection - which hopefully IMG will bring - about quite why we are so out of step with what sponsors want would be helpful. It's not just that it's gambling, it's that it's one sponsor for everything.

Makes us look cheap.

Might be contractual, as part of their SL deal they may have first option on other sponsorship opportunities. Its not unusual for that to be the case.

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I’m not prejudiced, I hate everybody equally

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Looking at the sponsors a sport attracts is like looking in the mirror.

Those sponsors are a direct reflection of how the corporate world regards your reach.

Don’t expect the likes of BMW, HSBC and McDonalds to replace Northern Railway, Betfred and Mushy Peas any time soon.

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3 minutes ago, whatmichaelsays said:

In fairness, we did have a period where the sport was able to attract a decent breadth of partners, even if only on short-term deals. We've had brands from FMCG (Kellogs, Batchelors, Irn-Bru, Gillette, various breweries), utilties (Powergen, First Utility), automotive (Dacia, Isuzu, Vavoline, Falken Tyres, Hertz), retail (Co-op, Specsavers, Moss Bros), tech (Elonex, GoDaddy, Alcatel) as well as brands like Dewalt, Tissot or Brut. 

Whilst most of those will be fairly small deals in the grand scheme if things, it is somewhat alarming that we seem to have lots so much diversity in the sponsorship portfolio at a central level.

While true regarding First Utility, Engage and Powergen they are very brief periods, less than 10 years out of 40+ for the Challenge Cup. Super League fares better but it is no coincidence that this coincides with Richard Lewis making a conscious decision to move in that direction and away from beer, fags and gambling, which seems to have been abandoned. I dont think any of them were particularly lucrative though. Even when Betfred first came on board a big thing was made about how lucrative it was and how it was a stark improvement yet it was less than £1 million a year.

While the rest look good on paper these are very obviously small value sponsorships/partnerships and these do not translate to primary sponsorship. In the Grand scheme of things our primary sponsorship hasn't been much in the world of sports and should be small change to these companies but they still aren't interested. If the sport could translate some of these into primary sponsors it would be great but they seem to come and go, which is a worry as they obviously do not see the value. I'd also hazard a guess that small scale sponsorship is handled on a different level than the larger scale stuff.

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27 minutes ago, paulwalker71 said:

If we may backtrack for a moment?

Is Betfred's willingness to part with large sums of money because Fred Done is personally attached to Rugby League? Is he throwing money at us, at least in part, because he likes the sport?

Because Fred Done is 79. With the greatest of respect he isn't going to be here for all that much longer.

Where would we be as a sport if (when) Fred shuffles off and the people that take the company on don't necessarily feel the same way?

On some level I believe Fred Done is 'putting back' given he's a working class boy done good from Salford. 

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In regard to sponsorship things may have been better if Toronto was still in the game. Just the name  added  a bit of class to the game.

Pity those that run the game didn't recognize that.

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Much as I dislike the gambling industry,it is perfectly legal so,I guess,beggars can't be choosers.

Remember,in football,the Championship in sponsored by Skybet so we are not unique with regards to our main sponsors.

I do look enviously at a certain other sport which has blue chip companies,luxury car brands,broad sheet newspapers etc advertising at its main events.

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47 minutes ago, Man of Kent said:

I don't have a problem with Betfred. They are a good old-fashioned bookie that do things the right way.

Incidentally, Fred & Peter Done are fifth on the Sunday Times 2022 tax list, paying a combined £170 million last year. 

Good post.

RL lucky to have Fred onboard.
Need partners to accompany BetFred - commercial Sept need to step up

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8 minutes ago, JF1 said:

Remember,in football,the Championship in sponsored by Skybet so we are not unique with regards to our main sponsors.

And the FA Cup is sponsored by Emirates, the Women's FA Cup is sponsored by Vitality, the EFL Cup by Carabao, the EFL Trophy by Papa John's, the Women's Super League by Barclay's, England men by BT ...

The issue isn't just that it's gambling - and that won't be made illegal any time soon as the paper on it keeps getting punted into the long grass - but that it's one aged bookie. 

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Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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