Football is a game of ritual: every year, fans embark on the same journey; a season long trek that they hope will end in glory for their club.
The parameters that define glory may change depending on the clubs situation; for top Premier League sides it is winning trophies and gaining Champions League football, for teams at the lower end of the football scale in League Two, success may be measured by staying in the Football League for another season and remaining solvent.
The football fan is, by and large, a passenger on this journey, financially and vociferously supporting their team as they seek to improve their lot. While this is excitement enough for some fans, there are an increasing number of others who seek additional entertainment alongside their weekly football fix. This comes in the form of the increasingly popular football bet.
Football and betting – an uneasy alliance
It is fair to say that football and the betting industry have had an uneasy alliance at times. When the two are mentioned together, frequently it is in negative terms. Whether that is criminal syndicates in east Asia trying to influence players to influence football matches or the recent case of Ronnie Moore, manager of Tranmere Rovers, who was suspended from his club pending an FA enquiry into breaking laws over betting on matches and competitions within which his club was participating. An offence which Moore, earlier this month, admitted.
Yet, it is fair to say that outside the top flight, football’s relations with the betting industry have never been cosier. SkyBet, the bookmaking arm of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky entertainment conglomerate, are the official sponsors of the Football League (Championship, League One and League Two) and the money they pay to sponsor the league is a lifeblood to the game.
This fact makes Ronnie Moore’s situation at Tranmere Rovers, all the more embarrassing both for him, his club and the Football League.
Yet there is no doubt that without the significant £15m investment to sponsor the three divisions in the football league, all 72 clubs in the division would be at least £500,000 a season worse off. For some that can be the difference between making a significant profit over the course of the season, or falling further into debt and the threat of administration.
Yet bookmakers involvement in football extends way beyond this notable and most obvious form of endorsement. Almost all Premier League sides, as revealed in this article in the Guardian, have official deals in place with bookmakers. In total, 19 betting firms have official deals in place with many of the 92 clubs in the English professional game.
Furthermore, the FA’s watershed decision to agree to a sponsorship deal allowing William Hill to become the “official betting partner” of the English national team and the FA Cup in 2012 further shows how far betting is becoming embedded as part of our football culture.
Nowadays, when live football is on the television, the advertisements both before, during and after the game all heavily feature bookmaking companies such as Bet365, SkyBet, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power, Betfred and many more.
At a business level, the relationship between bookmakers and football has never been healthier. Even the negative press surrounding issues like the Ronnie Moore situation, are now looked upon as the fault of the individual, rather than the cosiness of the relationship between football and bookmaking – and rightly so.
For the typical football fan though, the relationship between football and betting is simply that you bet on one using the other in the hope of turning a profit, yet an intriguing article reveals that football fans could be getting a raw deal – depending on how they bet.
Betting and fan exploitation
The article, viewable here, reveals that football fans who place bets online are far more likely to receive better odds on their selections than if they place a bet in the high street, even (and this is the most damning part) if they place the bet with the same bookmaking company.
The author of the article compared the coupons of several well-established bookmaking companies and compared their prices both against each other in an online context, but also with the bricks and mortar betting shops that are found in most local high streets.
The results were pretty shocking; the results showed that on outsider bets in particular, online companies offered significantly better prices than their high street counterparts. In some cases there was almost two points full difference between the prices you could get online compared to those found in the high street.
For example, a £10 acca involving Aston Villa, Newcastle, Millwall and Bournemouth winning their game would see a £665 return if laid in a Coral shop, however the exact same bet when laid with Coral online, would return a massive £1,112.63.
Yet oddly enough, if you want to back a strong favourite (say of odds of 1.70 or less) then the high street shops tended to offer slightly better prices than online bookmakers. However, the difference here is only in fractions of a point and nowhere near enough to make up the difference in prices for the longer-odds selections.
In short, the report reveals yet another commercial outlet heavily associated with football exploiting or being used to exploit football fans. It’s not enough that the new England shirt costs £90 or that a season ticket to watch Arsenal pay is £1000+ but now bookmakers are short-changing football fans up and down the country.
In the first part of this article, I revealed that the relationship between football and the bookmaking industry has never been closer in terms of finance, but it is also the case that the relationship between the football fan and the betting industry is one of potential exploitation.
There’s no doubting that the commercial side of football allows the game to thrive but is it about time something was done to prevent the financial exploitation of football fans?