The FAI has announced SportPesa as its latest commercial partner. The African based, UK regulated betting company, already has a strong foothold in sport through sponsorships in soccer, rugby and motorsport.
It is the official betting partner of the Guinness PRO 14 Championship and is in the second season of a partnership with Cork City.
The brand is also the shirt front sponsor of Everton in the English Premier League and a betting partner there of Arsenal and Southampton.
The company provides sportsbook and casino services around the world and does hold an Irish license.
The announcement was made at a joint press conference at Aviva Stadium yesterday, which was addressed by Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy and SportPesa’s Head of Marketing Shaun Simmonds.
“We are delighted to announce this ground-breaking partnership with the FAI,” said SportPesa Head of Marketing Shaun Simmonds.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for football in Ireland with the country set to host some key matches during next year’s European Championships.”
“As with our other partnerships in sport – we are looking forward to playing a key role in the FAI’s ongoing CSR, programmes and initiatives.
“This follows on from our sponsorship deal with Cork City. The Cork City partnership was the first move we ever made in Ireland. The partnership is in its second season and was signed back in February 2018. We’re the club’s official betting partner, with the usual digital rights and some branding down at Turner’s Cross.”
“I am delighted to welcome SportPesa as a new and key commercial partner of the FAI ahead of the start of our EURO 2020 qualifying campaign,” added FAI Commercial Director Mark Russell.
“The strength of the game in Ireland is reflected in the range of high quality brands which have invested in football and who see football as their preferred sport.”
Gambling sponsorship in sport is a subject that causes significant concern on issues of social responsibility as well as integrity.
As part of the new sponsorship deal, SportPesa will partner with the FAI on a Corporate Social Responsibility Programme. They similarly back a mental wellbeing programme with Everton FC that had previously been threatened by health service cutbacks. It is a tricky area though.
The English FA exited a partnership with Ladbrokes after concerns were expressed over the message it sent out to fans. The Scottish FA Cup is sponsored by William Hill and the Northern Irish Football Association also has an official partnership with local Toals Bookmakers.
Gambling is the single biggest sector of shirt front sponsorship in the Premier League with Sportpesa one of eight firms to have front of shirt sponsorship with teams.
The IRFU quietly ended its partnership with Paddy Power last year while the GAA introduced a rule at its 2018 congress preventing any form a betting related sponsorship at national or local level.
Last year as well, President Michael D Higgins entered the debate wondering whether more onerous restrictions should be placed on betting advertising and promotion.
Betting is enjoyed by most people in a way that adds to the enjoyment of a sporting event and does not cause problems but like alcohol, when an individual gets into trouble with it the impact on lives can be devastating.
So long as it is regulated closely and companies themselves take on a serious attitude towards their responsibilities in the field of problem gambling, then prohibition is a blunt tool against an activity that society in its wider context deems to be both legal and acceptable.
Both the FAI and Sportpesa will need to tread carefully though when it comes to the social responsibility element of this new partnership.