Former England striker, Wayne Rooney, will join Championship club, Derby County, as player-coach in January 2020, it was announced yesterday (6th August).
Rooney will wear the number 32 as part of a controversial commercial deal with Kindred Group-owned online casino, 32Red, described as a reinvention of the standard football sponsorship model.
Derby owner, Mel Morris, defended the agreement with 32Red amidst criticism from multiple parties, including former minister, Richard Caborn, who helped to create the 2005 Gambling Act.
“Obviously, the commercial opportunities this creates are widespread and significant.” Said Morris.
“On the back of Wayne joining the club, we have just been offered a record-breaking sponsorship deal with 32Red.
“We are keen to leverage Wayne’s involvement and the support of 32Red with our community initiatives, expanding the work such as the Team Talk mental health programme which is supported by our Community Trust and 32Red.”
Rooney will earn around £90,000 per week at Derby which was initially reported to be funded by 32Red itself, however sources of Gambling Insider suggest that the scope of the casino’s contribution is in fact less comprehensive.
32Red general manager, Nick Banbury, told the Daily Telegraph:
“This record-breaking sponsorship agreement is a significant step for us as we continue to reinvent the model of sponsorship to benefit both club and community.
“Our partnership with Derby County Community Trust and the extended relationship with Derby County Football Club shows a new model for football club sponsorship is possible.”
The Rooney announcement follows a self-imposed ban by UK gambling firms to stop whistle-to-whistle advertisements during high profile live sports broadcasts.
This particular arrangement with 32Red does therefore appear hypocritical, but perhaps no more-so than the brand’s logo already emblazoned on the front of the Derby County shirt this season.
A recent article by The Drum stated that just three Premier League clubs - Brighton, Sheffield United and Southampton - are without a betting brand partnership ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
Gambling sponsorship in sport, particularly football, now extends beyond the (semi) traditional chest logo into complex agreements for exposure on shirt sleeves, shorts, in matchday programmes, on official club websites and as part of club-produced online content.
The adoption of Rooney by 32Red is just one further example of a club both exploiting an opportunity for commercial gain and a gambling operator doing likewise.
However, the sponsorship arrangement itself is perhaps not the fundamental source of this particular controversy, but instead the sponsor being promoted - I doubt there would be such uproar if Rooney was to wear the number 99 as part of a sponsorship deal with Cadbury’s Flake.
Sure, the club may be branded a sell-out and fans would likely be frustrated by the deal’s openly commercial motives, but it’s difficult to imagine a backlash by Diabetes UK equal to that of anti-gambling campaigners.
The public and the media demands consistency. The gambling industry does not help itself by declaring responsibility in one breath and exploiting circumstances for profit in another.
The industry is walking on a knife-edge. Current public discourse is leaning more towards a full ban on gambling sports sponsorship, akin to that experienced by the tobacco industry since 2005, than it is acceptance of increased industry infiltration.
Ignoring this trend for short-term gain could prove to be a highly embarrassing and consequential own goal.
Phil has worked in the gambling industry for over four years and has written multiple articles for Online Bingo, EGR and iGaming Business. In previous roles, Phil devised and implemented strategies for various multi-national clients including eBay UK, Mothercare and Carphone Warehouse.
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