The latest Sport for Business Round Table took place this week at the Irish headquarters of Betfair. The subject under the spotlight was how betting and sport interact across areas of integrity, commercial partnership, technology and social responsibility. Among those who participated were representatives from the Football Association of Ireland, the Irish Greyhound Board, Betfair, Microsoft, RTE, Mason Hayes and Curran and Sigmar Recruitment.
The discussion was as ever wide ranging and of value with oft stated positions challenged by fresh perspectives and consensus emerging about the possibility of new initiatives to enhance the relationship that sport, through governing bodies, players and fans can have with companies actively engaged in the multi billion sports betting industry.
We always try to capture ten areas of the discussion for our wider membership, and raise a number of points that may prove the basis for continual improvement over the coming months.
10 take-aways from betting and Sport
1. Betting on sport has always been a popular pastime and last year Betfair alone handled over €1 Billion in bets on sporting events around the world. The explosion of activity facilitated through internet and more lately mobile technology has rapidly expanded the market and betting companies are now among the largest sponsors of sport in a number of different countries. There is a natural affinity between the two sides and one that can draw in much needed revenue for all levels of sport.
2. There has always been a whiff of danger associated with betting. From the Baseball World Series of 1919 through the Gay Future affair in racing and closer to the present day with incidents in cricket, tennis, soccer and snooker attracting unfavourable headlines. This was recognised as a concern though some of the independent voices in the discussion did suggest that betting should raise its head and point to the good that it has generated through partnership with sport as a much deeper legacy.
3. The perception and the reality of betting operations can often be at variance. The story was told of a group of young Asian women travelling to Airtricity Premier League games and phoning back news of events on the pitch. The perception of this was that there was something amiss whereas in fact the details they were relaying were only being used to manage in play markets where the market is temporarily suspended when the ball travels into the penalty area. Without live coverage, ‘on the ground’ information is needed to facilitate the more than 50% of overall betting that now takes place on soccer after the game has kicked off.
4. Extensive cooperation takes place between betting companies and those responsible for maintaining integrity, as evidenced by the 55 memoranda of understanding which Betfair has in place with sports bodies at national and international level. The operation of the integrity unit in the British Horseracing Authority costs €4.5million each year and is funded from the betting levy that applies to bets struck on the sport in Britain.
5. There was resistance to the idea of a directly funded integrity service paid for by regulated operators. Where corruption has occurred it has generally been through unregulated betting operators and it was felt that government regulation of betting operators at national and EU level was the better means of ensuring best practice.
6. There is no question that the technology is available now to intelligently monitor for unusual betting patterns. The vast majority of betting is handled electronically whether through online or through electronic point of sale terminals in betting shops. Identities are tied to bets that may raise concern and this can form the basis of investigation either after, or in many cases before an event has taken place.
7. It is imperative that sport maintains a tight control on integrity issues. Once that is questioned, the credibility of a sport or tournament is severely compromised with a corresponding knock on effect on commercial revenues.
8. On the commercial side there is a natural affinity between the revenue generating sports betting industry and the sport on which much of its activity takes place. Most sporting bodies have existing relationships with betting companies with Paddy Power and Boylesports the official partners of the IRFU and FAI respectively. The GAA is a notable exception. Sports betting companies need to act with responsibility. The high proportion of sales of replica shirts to U18’s means that a front of shirt sponsorship deal is unlikely with a national team. This was seen as being in the best interests of all. It was noted though that commercial demand requires a degree of flexibility. The story was recounted of dire warnings being expressed if one sports body in receipt of funding from the Irish Sports Council should accept a particular sponsorship deal because of a conflict with one area of public policy. The potential sponsor was a major multinational with existing sponsorship links to other areas of sport and society. This again highlights the importance of the perception and the reality of sports betting’s relationship with sport.
9. Questions were raised about the distribution of revenues derived centrally from betting tax. At present these funds go to Horse and Greyhound racing. In the UK the same sports are primarily funded through a separate levy on bets. With the growth of betting on other sports there are increasing demands for this to be reflected in a re-shaping of where betting taxes go. It was recognised that general exchequer funding was also an issue and it is an area that more work may need to be done in.
10. The area of responsible gambling among sports players is another where there may be a gap in education. Sports governing bodies are inclined to leave this element to player representative bodies and while some positive initiatives have raised the issue among players there may be scope for a better collaborative approach.
What do we want to make progress on?
Sport for Business will investigate with Government what its broad view is on the distribution of betting revenues towards sport. There may need to be an investigation of how this is handled in other jurisdictions so that it may form part of betting legislation and taxation into the future.
Sport for Business will seek to host a meeting with representatives of the main player representative associations, the governing bodies and some leading betting operators to see if a collaborative approach to player education in this area could be of some benefit.
Future Sport for Business Round Tables
The next Round Table events will focus on Broadcasting in November, Social Media in December and Charity and Sport in January. If you would like to participate in any of these events please contact our team at Sport for Business.