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Online Gaming Operators Face Football Problems

By: Joan Peppin, Friday March 12th 2010
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Football is the most popular sport in the world. It draws immense amount of sponsorship from diverse organizations. Online gaming operators also vie for an opportunity to promote their brands by sponsoring football teams and events. However, the ostrich like approach of certain European countries with regards to online gambling is proving to be a headache for some operators.

An ironical situation has arisen for the French football club Olympique Lyonnais, which has been sponsored by Betclic. In a Champion's League game to be played in Madrid next week, Olympique Lyonnais has been banned from sporting the Betclic logo on its shirts. Its opponents in the game are Real Madrid will be displaying the logo of Bwin, a major competitor of Betclic. Spain allows private online gambling operators to sponsor football teams so Real Madrid has no problem. France does not do so.

The irony in the story has yet to come. UEFA, the governing body of football in Europe, had given Olympique Lyonnais permission to display the Betclic logo on away matches outside France till the end of 2009. It was expected that the French legalization of online gambling would be in place by the beginning of 2010 and Betclic would be given a license by the French Government to engage in online gambling in France. This would have allowed Betclic to sponsor Olympique Lyonnais in and out of France. But the French legalization has not come through and because France says that the legalization is imminent, UEFA is not renewing the permission. Hence both Olympique Lyonnais and Betclic have been left high and dry. In a joint statement these two organizations have pointed out further irony that the French state-owned gambling monopolies are allowed to sponsor events of Ligue de Football Professionnel and the French Football Federation.

A similar situation has developed in Poland. Unibet, the Swedish online gaming operator, had a running sponsorship agreement with the Polish Football Federation. Unibet was the official sponsor of the Polish second division football league. On January 1, 2010, Poland's new UIGEA like anti-online gambling law came into effect. All forms of gambling other than land-based casinos have been banned and gambling companies can no longer advertise their brands. This means that Unibet cannot have its branding in the football stadiums and on television. The sponsorship agreement had to be suspended and the funds that would have accrued to the struggling Polish league clubs have been blocked. The Right2Bet blog says, "The development will come as a hammer blow to the league, its clubs and their supporters, who are now being robbed of the chance to earn the type of money needed if Polish football is to progress and regain a sure footing in the global game."

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