The Football Association faced fury last night over the sale of FA Cup rights to a betting firm.
The six-year deal allows Bet365 to show matches on its website and mobile app. It meant most of last weekend’s 32 ties were broadcast on Bet365, while only two were on free-to-air TV.
To watch the action on Bet365’s site, fans had to place a wager before kick-off or open an account with a £5 deposit. Betting odds accompanied the live footage, tempting viewers to place a stake.
The close links between the governing body and betting firms make a mockery of the fact all the kick-offs were delayed by one symbolic minute to publicise a mental health campaign backed by Prince William, the FA’s president. Gambling addiction has repeatedly been blamed for fuelling mental health problems.
To watch the action on Bet365’s site, fans had to place a wager before kick-off or open an account with a £5 deposit
All the kick-offs were delayed by one symbolic minute to publicise a mental health campaign backed by Prince William, the FA’s president
Three years ago the FA indicated it wanted to distance itself from the gambling industry by ending its £4million-a-year sponsorship from Ladbrokes. However, the agreement with Bet365 is due to run until 2024.
The mental health director of the NHS said the rights deal was an ‘own goal’ and an MP accused the body of ‘making money off misery’.
The FA said it had agreed the streaming deal through sporting rights agency IMG in 2017 – before it re-evaluated its relationship with the betting industry.
It said it would review the betting element of the next media rights deal, which will start in 2024.
But Charles Ritchie, who set up the charity Gambling with Lives after his son killed himself following a battle with betting addiction, said: ‘This shameful deal forces fans, loyally watching their team in the FA Cup, to be bombarded by the predatory marketing of addictive online gambling.
‘Some will die – young men are at high risk of gambling disorder which results in mental health problems and suicide.’
Denise Coates the billionaire boss of gambling firm Bet365
The Daily Mail is demanding greater protection for viewers and gamblers alike with its Stop The Gambling Predators campaign, which has highlighted how young fans are bombarded with gambling adverts. Broadcasters have already been forced to ban gambling adverts during live games.
The FA, which receives around £30million a year of public money, set up the FA Cup in 1871, making it is the world’s oldest national football competition.
Two of the weekend’s 32 ties were broadcast live on BBC One and a further four on BT Sport, a pay-to-view channel costing around £30 a month.
These six matches and all the other fixtures – except the ten that kicked off at 3.01pm on Saturday – were live on Bet365, including Liverpool versus Everton and Arsenal versus Leeds.
Bet365 heavily promoted the matches on social media, offering tips on potential ‘cupsets’. During the broadcasts, viewers were offered the odds on every type of outcome, such as total goals.
Fans at the delayed matches were shown a 60-second film narrated by Prince William – who has no oversight or involvement in the commercial aspects of the FA. He said: ‘In life, as in football, we all go through highs and lows.
‘We can all sometimes feel anxious or stressed. At moments even the little things can seem a struggle.’
As part of its deal with the FA, IMG is allowed to sell live footage from its cup matches to bookmakers and betting firms. It was reported that the agreement was worth £750million, although this also covered global media rights.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris called on the FA to break the arrangement. She said: ‘If the FA had any moral compass they wouldn’t have done the deal in the first place, now they must scrap it immediately to salvage what is left of their reputation.
Betting odds accompanied the live footage, tempting viewers to place a stake
‘Football fans are going to open a Bet365 account to watch games, they are effectively being groomed into a culture of gambling with tragic consequences including mental illness and suicide.’
Football has come under heavy fire for its relationship with betting firms. This season 27 of England’s top 44 clubs have a gambling company as their shirt sponsor.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS, said the sport must rethink its relationship with the betting industry.
She added: ‘This is another own goal from the gambling industry. Bet to view is simply wrong and needs to stop. It is no wonder that – with tactics like these – more people are seeking help for gambling problems on the NHS.’
Tracey Crouch, a Tory former minister for sport, said: ‘Given the current challenges of regulating online gambling it will inevitably expose vulnerable people, including children, to gambling – something that can lead to long-term problems for society. I hope they reconsider this decision.’
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said: ‘It’s extraordinary that football bosses are allowing bookies to carry out this wholesale ‘gamblification’ of our national sport.
‘Football bosses will have to explain themselves, not least to parents and young people.
‘Advertising and promoting gambling is widely understood to be linked with levels of gambling-related harm which are damaging public health at unprecedented levels. Promoting this harm must not be the fate for the national, beautiful, game.’
An FA spokesman said last night: ‘The FA agreed a media rights deal with IMG in early 2017, part of which permits them to sell the right to show live footage or clips of FA Cup matches to bookmakers. Bet365 acquired these rights from IMG to use from the start of the 2018/19 season.
‘This deal was agreed before we made a clear decision on the FA’s relationship with gambling companies in June 2017 when we ended our partnership with Ladbrokes. We will review this element of the media rights sales process ahead of tendering rights to the new cycle from the 2024/25 season onwards. Leagues and clubs continue to govern their own relationships with gambling companies.’
An undercover Daily Mail investigation exposed the tactics used by Bet365 to keep big losers gambling. From customer bonuses that ‘reward loyalty’ to cash incentives for those racking up big losses, last year’s probe showed how high rollers are lavished with a dizzying array of perks.
The three-week investigation found that customers who hit a ‘net loss threshold’ can be turned into VIPs and given ‘incentives’, such as the chance to win FA Cup Final tickets.
Bet365’s success has turned Denise Coates into Britain’s highest-paid boss with a salary of £323million a year. Her firm declined to comment last night.
DAVID JONES: How Bet365 owner Denise Coates became UK’s highest-paid boss with a £6.9billion fortune on the back of gamblers’ misery
For ardent football fans such as myself, the third round of the FA Cup holds a special magic. It allows the lowliest teams to test their mettle against the Premier League giants – and, just occasionally, triumph against all odds.
Browsing through the fixture list last weekend as I decided which of the 32 matches to watch on TV, I was puzzled by the scheduled kick-off times.
Each had been delayed by 60 seconds, so that – for example – a game that ought to have started at 3pm began at 3.01pm.
It turned out that this was the latest initiative dreamed up by the Football Association, who wanted to use that minute’s pause to raise awareness of mental illness. The idea, called Heads Up, was publicly endorsed by the Duke of Cambridge, the FA’s president, who featured in a campaign video screened at many grounds.
Denise Coates, who – as founder and majority shareholder of Bet365 – has become the best-paid woman in Britain, and quite possibly the world
As football is ‘one of the most powerful and unifying forces in our society’, he said he hoped it would help in ‘shattering the stigma’ that surrounds mental health. In making this well-meaning pronouncement, it seems unthinkable that Prince William could have known about the disgraceful, money-grabbing deal that had been struck between English football’s governing body and the online gambling giant, Bet365.
By selling the broadcasting rights to the majority of last weekend’s cup ties – via a third party – to a betting company whose slick marketing ploys lure countless punters into addiction, the FA has made a mockery of its campaign to improve the nation’s psychological wellbeing.
Truly, this cosy, arrangement makes one wonder which planet the blazered brigade who run our national sport – funded with £30million of taxpayers’ money – are living on.
Haven’t they read expert studies which put the number of ‘problem’ gamblers as high as 400,000, with a further 1.5million classed as ‘at risk’? Don’t they know that, each year, more than 500 habitual gamblers will feel desperate enough to commit suicide?
For all the avuncular advice doled out by Bet365’s geezerish frontman Ray Winstone – ‘remember, gamble responsibly’ – don’t they understand that, for many young men, online betting can be as addictive as crack cocaine?
To those of us who love the game in its purest sense, however, this deal is little short of sacrilegious, says David Jones
Not long ago, during an investigation into the dangers of internet betting, I attended a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous in Stoke–on–Trent, where Bet365 is based in a sleek, concrete-and-glass HQ, and heard their harrowing stories.
Among the group was ‘Gerry’, an articulate, middle-aged businessman who appeared far too level-headed to become hooked on ‘games’ that can drain the money from your bank account with the speed of a suction pump.
Feeling bored, one day, however, he had opened an online gambling account and fluttered a few pounds – and within a couple of years he had lost ‘hundreds of thousands’, along with his house, his wife and family.
The other members of the group were in similarly desperate straits. One young man had spent three days and nights gambling online in his parked car without any sleep. His spree only ended when his parents alerted the police, who found him slumped over the wheel, phone in hand, thousands of pounds in debt.
The addicts I met were reluctant to blame any specific betting company. Most had opened accounts with several, and in terms of marketing ploys designed to hook punters, they said, they were all equally as bad.
In the grip of their gambling fever, they would have bet on anything from an obscure tennis match in some far-flung country to the winner of Strictly Come Dancing. Nonetheless, as they were all male and most were sports fans, several of them had started by betting on football.
After all, where was the harm in wagering a few quid on whether Stoke City would beat Derby as they supped a few pints on a Saturday afternoon? No doubt many thousands of football fans felt the same last weekend, as they pressed the ‘live streaming’ button on their mobile phones and watched FA Cup matches that would once have been viewable only on TV.
They might not have been able to savour the pre-match build-up featuring a panel of former players talking about tactics and form. But under the deal, Bet365 offered live commentary and the luxury of switching between 22 of the weekend’s 32 cup games. Punters were even offered a £100 betting ‘credit’. All they needed to do was open an account and take advantage of this ‘generous welcome offer’.
We cannot know how many did so, but we can be pretty sure that one person will have the figures at her manicured fingertips.
She is Denise Coates, who – as founder and majority shareholder of Bet365 – has become the best-paid woman in Britain, and quite possibly the world. Last year, this austere, intensely private woman paid herself £323miliion in salary and dividends. Her total fortune is an estimated £6.9billion.
In a rare interview, several years ago, Miss Coates, 52, who has five children (four of whom are adopted) and is married to her childhood sweetheart, claimed to be uninterested in the trappings of material wealth. But that was before the betting company she nurtured from an office in a portable cabin in Stoke became a multi-billion-pound enterprise – the biggest of its kind.
She has since bought up a great swathe of the Staffordshire countryside and turned it into a huge estate, surrounded by a moat-like lake complete with stables (she is a workaholic and riding is among her few hobbies), sunken tennis courts and ornamental gardens. Her last known car was an Aston Martin DB9, and her family also travels by helicopter.
Of course, if the Football Association are willing to sell out the FA Cup – English football’s equivalent of the crown jewels – Miss Coates can hardly be blamed for taking advantage of their greed.
Though her family are steeped in cloth-cap football – her father, Peter, 81, a Labour-supporting miner’s son, is the chairman of Stoke City and Bet365 are the club’s owners – she has a business to run. And in that business, soccer is a highly lucrative commodity.
To those of us who love the game in its purest sense, however, this deal is little short of sacrilegious.
As a boy of ten, in 1966, I remember attending my first FA Cup tie as though it was yesterday.
My hometown team, Morecambe, were then part-timers playing in a provincial league called the Lancashire Combination, and they were drawn to play against York City, then a comparative giant.
The match was not shown live on TV. The only way to experience the thrill of watching a team of plasterers and painters and decorators take on the hardened professionals was to be there – so thousands of us trekked across the Pennines to stand on the terraces with our wooden rattles, banners and red and white scarves.
The joy, after we fought out a 0-0 draw, was unbridled, and though we were eventually knocked out of the cup after two replays, our pride was unbowed.
Among supporters of a certain generation, that epic series of matches is still spoken about today. The fans of countless other minnow teams will have similarly wonderful FA Cup memories. Followers of Sutton United, for example, who shamed then-mighty Coventry City, in 1989, and Hereford United, who slayed Newcastle, in 1972, on a cabbage patch of a pitch.
Those heroic feats were captured on BBC’s Match of the Day, and are reprised by the programme to this day. Had such marvellous matches been played last weekend, however, the sad reality is that many people would have chosen to view them in the warmth of the pub or living-room, on the Bet365 app downloaded to their mobile phone.
The immediacy and excitement of the occasion would have been lost so completely that they might as well have been watching computer games.
This is the crime that the Football Association, so-called guardians of the beautiful game, have committed by flogging off the grandest of all cups to a betting firm – even if through an intermediary.
We can but wonder just how many people took the first step towards addiction when they pressed their ‘live streaming’ buttons at the weekend.
Surely, though, it is something the FA’s grasping overlords ought to have contemplated during that 60-second pause to raise mental health awareness.