So, Coventry City are now sponsored by a betting company.
It is something that I had been hoping could have been avoided, but it was possibly inevitable given that 12 of the 21 other Championship clubs that have announced their front of shirt sponsors thus far are sponsored by gambling companies – as well as the division itself being sponsored by a betting company.
The relationship between football and gambling in this country is virtually symbiotic at this point. Football generates money for betting companies, betting companies generate money for football. It is almost unavoidable to go to a football match, or watch one on TV, and avoid an advert for a betting company. It makes no difference whether your club’s shirt has a betting company logo on the front of it, a football match being played is often an advertisement for betting in and of itself.
If that is the case, then why does it matter that Coventry City’s shirt is now sponsored by a betting company? Betting already exists in football, the company has presumably offered the best deal, there is nothing stopping the football club from accepting money from a betting company, the club has never taken a principled stand against gambling and has, in fact, had betting companies on the front of the shirt in the past.
This is where it gets down to personal stances. I think there is something symbolically different between existing in an industry where gambling is rampant and putting a logo for it on your shirt. I don’t bet and I don’t think that any amount of advertising is going to change my decision not to, the concern I have is whether this endorsement for a betting company tempts young people or problem gamblers into betting.
Immediately after the announcement, the betting company involved began interacting with Coventry City fans on social media, offering a number of them free bets. This already demonstrates how the club’s relationship with gambling has changed as a result of this sponsorship deal. It goes from it being a case of betting existing in football to actively encouraging Coventry City fans to bet.
However, whether or not Coventry City fans are more likely to bet as a result of this sponsorship is only part of the issue here. The other part is a defend the club at all costs mentality that gets spiked in some fans in situations where the club moves into a moral grey area.
I have seen on social media a number of fans – some of whom I otherwise respect – mocking people who have objected to this sponsorship deal. This isn’t people entering into a debate on this and the wider topic of football’s relationship with gambling, it’s laughing at and calling people ridiculous for having different ethical code to yourself.
Furthermore, there is something about football that can see people bend that ethical code based on what their football club does. The most notable example is when the club had signed Marlon King after his time in prison. Immediately after he arrived, some Coventry City fans who objected to a man convicted for sexual assault playing for our football club were singled out for mocking, seen as somehow not being as committed to the cause of other fans. Those ‘true fans’ then continued to defend a King to the extent that they began to chant ‘she said yes’ in response to opposition fans singling out of the player.
Football, and team sport in general, in the entertainment industry is a strange beast. You don’t really pick and choose which football club you support, once you’ve decided you support one, you tend to stick with it. As such, it’s more difficult to object to the actions of our football clubs in the same way you can object to a celebrity you like becoming problematic. When dropping your support for a club isn’t an option, your choice is either to buy into what their club does or to be quiet and thus tacitly accept it.
As in that Marlon King example, that situation can lead people those who but into what thet club does down an ethical path they would not otherwise have taken. This gambling company has not just paid for an advertisement on a football shirt, it has also bought the loyalty of a portion of Coventry City fans via association with the club.
While this is ultimately boils down to the choice whether to buy a shirt with a logo on it, for there to be a debate here over the rights and wrongs of this sponsorship deal is perfectly valid. What we’re seeing here might just be that initial reaction where emotions tend to run hottest. That debate may well return over time, peoples’ views may cool as we learn to live with an issue that fans of other Championship clubs have had for some time.
The most concerning thing to me here is how quickly and vehemently a sizeable portion of Coventry City fans have been to defend a company that before today had no association with this football club. It should be possible to support a football club and not feel required to defend every action of that football club.