Ladbrokes gamble on SPFL sponsorship deal, but lengthy wait for meagre deal begs several questions for Scottish Football

Date: 14th May 2015

THE SPFL have agreed a deal worth £4million with betting giant Ladbrokes for the next two years, finally filling the empty headline sponsor for the Scottish Premier League which has sat embarrassingly vacant for the last two years, writes Ben Ramage.

The betting company have secured the rights to all four leagues covering 42 teams, for a sum marginally over what The Clydesdale Bank sponsored just the Scottish Premier League for back in 2013 before they decided against renewing.

While it has long been known that sponsorship south of the border is significantly larger, comparing the English and Scottish sponsorship deals still makes for unbelievably bleak viewing.

The English Premiership has been loyally sponsored by Barclays Bank since 2001, with their current deal ending at the end of the 2015/16 season worth a staggering £40m per year.

The English League Cup has been sponsored by U.S Bank Capital One since 2012, in a deal worth £7m a year. That’s £5 million more than the SPFL just managed to sell four Scottish football leagues for, for just the League Cup.

The FA Cup, incidentally, just signed a £10m sponsorship deal with aviation giants Emirates which will come into effect next season. There seems to be no end to the amount of companies clamouring for the chance to have their name associated with English football.

The biggest negative from these figures is not just how much money is involved, as it’s well known that English football has long received more sponsorship funding. It is how many people want to be involved.

Every time English sponsorship opportunities become available there will inevitably be a huge tug of war for the deal, leading to a bidding war which can only increase the deals offered and eventually agreed.

In Scotland, there is no one fighting for these deals. They have sat empty for years. How can you bargain for a better deal when there is no other option on the table? That’s part of the reason why the Ladbrokes deal is nowhere near as good as it could, and arguably should, be.

And why is there no one clamouring for the title sponsorship of Scottish Football? Is it down to a lack of competitiveness? Celtic have marched to the league title for three years in a row now with virtual ease.

Could it be a lack of quality throughout the squads, or a lack of personality or branding by those in charge?

The confusing element is that Sky still pay for rights coverage of Scottish games and pay big money, as do BT Sport. Why are sponsors not forthcoming to get their name spread across all these platforms? Is it a lack of creativity and skill in selling them by the SPFL?

The SPFL have pointed to the difficult economic climate as the key problem in securing a new deal, and have claimed that they have turned down several offers of sponsorship they deemed unworthy of the leagues.

But is a deal with a betting giant really worthy? It is definitely questionable whether a gambling company is ethically or socially a fitting sponsor for leagues trying desperately to re-establish themselves as financially sustainable in the wake of a number of well-reported disasters at some of the league’s biggest clubs.

And that’s not to mention the thousands of people in the country, including professional footballers, struggling with gambling addiction. Is it morally justifiable to have a leading betting company flaunted in front of them every time they see the results from the Ladbrokes Championship or Ladbrokes League One?

Fans are already subjected to this in Scotland’s flagship cup tournament, with the betting company William Hill having sponsored the Scottish Cup for the last four years with another yet to come. Do clubs really want to be known for winning a prestigious Ladbrokes and William Hill double?

The League finally has a sponsor and yes, the total SPFL funding for the next two years has risen as a result, which will trickle down into all 42 Scottish League sides next season. But the length of time to secure it, and whether it is socially and morally justifiable, certainly remains questionable.

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