Triple Blow for SportPesa as Football Turns Its Back on Gambling Sponsorship

SportPesa LogoThere was further evidence that football is turning its back on gambling sponsorship deals after both Everton and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) confirmed they would be ending their agreements with SportPesa.

The Kenyan bookmaker has suffered a tough time of things lately having been expelled from their home market in a row over taxes, and that headache has worsened with the latest developments.

To make matters worse, SportPesa have also had to pull the plug on their deal with Formula One outfit Racing Point on the eve of the new season, citing ‘difficulties in their home market’ as the cause.

The Kenyan government, fearing a rise in problem gambling in the country, hiked taxes on betting in an attempt to curb the issue. SportPesa opened a dispute with the Uhuru Kenyatta government, and they have since had their licence to operate suspended until further notice.

They have become the main bookmaker in Kenya after Betin, their main competitor, closed their doors in the wake of the new tax scheme.

‘Awokening’ Makes Gambling Firms a Bad Bet

Gambling Table Games

There has been so much written and said about the dark side of gambling recently that it was only a matter of time before sport made its own stand.

New regulations on TV advertising during live games have already been introduced, and it is believed that further rule changes on shirt sponsorship are being considered after ten Premier League sides started the 2019/20 season displaying the logo of a betting firm – something that has been denied by new Premier League chief Richard Masters.

Everton’s deal with SportPesa was intended to run until 2022, and a club spokesman subtly referred to this changing stance in their statement breaking the news.

“This has been a difficult decision, but one that allows us to best deliver on our commercial plan and to grasp the new opportunities now open to us.”

And at the club’s AGM in January, their chief executive Denis Barrett-Baxendale commented that in an ‘ideal world’ Everton would not have a sponsor linked to the gambling industry.

SportPesa have been forced to deny that their financial position has not been the cause for three major sponsorship campaigns being torn up, but the Everton deal – worth a reported £7 million per annum – clearly won’t help matters.

“Following the statement released last night by Everton FC, SportPesa can confirm that its commercial arrangement with the club will conclude by mutual agreement at the end of the current season after a successful partnership,” a statement from the brand read. “We would like to thank Everton FC for their support, in particular for their valued input on an array of charitable projects in Africa.

“We understand that this agreement allows Everton to pursue a variety of other commercial arrangements for next season, which we note they are already doing.”

FAI Cancel Deal Less Than a Year After Signing

Irish Flag Football

Across the water, the FAI had signed a £20 million sponsorship deal with SportPesa in 2019 to help add some much-needed funds to the brassic organisation’s coffers, who described the Kenyan brand as a ‘key commercial partner’ at the time back in March.

Indeed, the governing body was set to be in such dire straits financially that the deal – backed by agreements signed with the Bank of Ireland and UEFA – was seen as a rescue act.

SportPesa has a considerable customer base in Ireland, and the move originally attracted criticism – should a national governing body be promoting gambling? The Football Association faced similar calls when they allowed bet365 to live stream FA Cup matches on their website.

The general secretary of the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland, Stephen McGuinness, was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think there should be any relationship between the governing body and gambling companies.”

The deal being torn up follows the trend set by the GAA, who voted to ban all gambling-related sponsorship deals back in 2018.

Formula One Firm Says All Bets Are Off

While not as outspoken in their opposition to gambling sponsorship, Formula One has been forced to distance itself from alcohol and tobacco brands in the past.

And it would appear as if the end of relations between SportPesa and Racing Point was a ‘mutual’ agreement.

“SportPesa’s commercial relationship with Racing Point has concluded at the end of the initial 12-month agreement between us,” their press statement read.

“We would like to thank Racing Point for partnering with us and we wish them and their new sponsor every success for future F1 seasons.”

The deal started back in 2019, with SportPesa’s branding featuring heavily on the car’s designs, but they have already been replaced by water treatment firm BWT. It’s another huge blow as they look to build an audience outside of their Kenyan home.

Does the Door Remain Open in Kenya?

Kenya Map and Magnifying Glass

The current situation with the Kenyan gambling sector is something of a head-scratcher.

The government had passed their new tax rules into law, but following a protest from SportPesa this was referred to the Kenyan Tax Appeals Tribunal.

And in November 2019 they sensationally ruled against the government, claiming the rules were unfair and that taxes should be levied on gambling winnings, rather than on stakes. That means that individual punters are liable, rather than the operators they bet with.

It’s a decision which should, in theory, open the door to regulated gambling in Kenya once more, although you suspect the government’s original decision has already proven terminal to the industry in the African country.

BetIn have already dissolved their operations, while SportPesa made nearly 500 employees redundant when closing its doors to the Kenyan market.