Kindred Group’s Tom Banks on the future of gambling sponsorship in football

Kindred Group’s Tom Banks on the future of gambling sponsorship in football

On Thursday, the Premier League announced that its teams had agreed an effective ban of front-of-shirt gambling sponsorship commencing in the 2025/26 season. We spoke with Tom Banks, Head of Corporate Affairs UK/Global at Kindred Group – the operator responsible for Unibet and 32Red. The question: how can operators continue their partnerships with responsible campaigns and mutually positive results?

Would you be able to give us an update from a sponsorship perspective on the ditching of betting sponsors from the front of Premier League shirts?

If the idea is that removing front of shirt sponsorship will make gambling safer, then I'm not too sure that that's really going to do what people are hoping. It's a blunt measure.

The ban won't come in for a few years, so it won't be that operators have to immediately remove themselves from the front. But I think the fact that this is just in the Premier League shows that there is still quite an important role for the operators to play - we have a place in sport because we’re a part of sport. Some people don't like that, but that doesn't mean to say that it's not something that should be allowed to continue. We want to keep talking about setting limits, staying in control and we can do that through our sponsorship and advertising.

We confront the issue ourselves through our journey towards zero which is a publicly stated ambition to reach 0% of our revenue from harmful gambling and from high-risk play. We're only able to do that if we are all part of the conversation and all part of the solution. I don’t agree with the idea that you can just remove betting operators from the public eye and hope that things will get better.

The EFL have also been quite strong on the fact that it's a huge financial benefit outside of the Premier League where you don't have the broadcast money and the big money deals. Betting sponsorships are crucial for lower league clubs, so any betting sponsorship bans for those clubs down the line could mean hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds off their balance sheet and if they can't get someone to pick that up it’s a real risk to their future.

What is Kindred Group’s new model of sponsorship and what compelled the company to introduce it?

This is something that we started rolling out a few years ago. We challenged ourselves to think about different ways to utilize our sponsorship for good as part of a broader approach that we have towards sustainability. We feel like if we're going to have a place in football and in sport more broadly, we need to make sure that we're using that to keep gambling safe and responsible.

We’ve seen an increase in the use of safer gambling tools over the last two years and it's probably no coincidence that we're all talking about it more. You won't really see a Unibet or a 32 Red logo without some form of responsible gambling messaging, whether that's ‘set your limits’, ‘stay in control’, etc. Other operators do it too. Skybet, for example, have adverts with Jeff Stelling and others talking about setting limits – I think that’s really good.

What are some of the tangible effects you’ve seen as a result of your new sponsorship model?

Derby County F.C. were piloting a scheme called Team Talk and came to us with the concept. We commissioned some research into how working-class men, but then men more broadly, interacted with football and how they interacted with talking about mental health. It was clear that they felt more comfortable opening up about mental health issues in the context of a football environment. At Derby, that environment was a room at the stadium and in their foundation facilities where it's really relaxed and gives men the space to open up. We funded that scheme and it had real success; the participation rates increased, and the success rates are phenomenal in terms of the improvement in mental health.

Now there's a Team Talk model at Rangers and a similar project at Middlesbrough called Think With Your Feet, which is another way of introducing conversations about mental health to people to kind of feel more comfortable to understand the symptoms.

Are those examples of how you see yourselves as part of the solution to the more negative side of gambling?

There is absolutely a role for us to play. In the debate around betting sponsorship there have been calls for a complete blackout of gambling operators in sport. I think, to be honest, that would kind of miss the point of what we're all trying to achieve.

We’ve seen some really encouraging signs from, for example, the use of safer gambling tools. If we're all able to advertise and we’re all able to sponsor, we can use that platform to put those tools on a pedestal. If it's done correctly, there's a role for responsible licensed operators here in the UK.

There’s a question worth asking on unlicensed operators and on those operators who use sport and use football as a billboard. If you're a brand that's advertising in the Premier League - on the front of the shirt - and you can't even get an account in the UK with your company, it's clearly just a marketing tool. What's the real benefit besides the financial benefit to the club? Is that something that we're all collectively happy with English football being used for?

Football is a key passion point. That’s something that we see in the future of partnerships between betting operators and sport: how we leverage that passion for good. It's probably testament to why, for example, we've got a long-standing deal with Rangers – we’re into our seventh or eighth season. We don't tend to do quick work; we like to maintain partnerships with clubs and organizations that we sponsor because we’re then able to build a proper relationship and do good work in the community over several years.

We’ve also seen that with the way alcohol is advertised in sports. A lot of the advertising now for Heineken will be Heineken Zero, Guinness will be Guinness 0.0%. There's a real effort across sectors to look at how you do your sponsorship in a more responsible way. In our mind, there's no difference for betting operators and we should all be looking and challenging ourselves to do better and that's why our model of sponsorship is so important.