Sponsorship agreements in professional football don’t tend to be particularly controversial on the surface. Undoubtedly they are the result of heavy competition and intense financial negotiation behind the scenes. But as far as the public is concerned, sponsors simply come and go, wit hotel only real effects for fans being that jerseys can look different and stadiums can be renamed or stocked with different billboards.
Because of this it was fairly surprising to see El Economista, a Spanish news site active in numerous Spanish-speaking countries around the world, accusing a betting firm of “colonizing” La Liga with its deals. The criticism was aimed specifically at bet365, which is a firm that’s been involved with football for quite some time, as opposed to some new company looking to make a splash.
The company is probably best known for being the primary sponsor for Stoke City in the English football system. Currently playing in the Championship, Stoke plays in a stadium branded bet365 Stadium, and its jerseys have the company’s logo across the chest. This makes bet365 fairly visible to the football world already, though it’s worth noting so does being a betting firm by nature. In fact, bet365 takes things a step further in this regard, not only letting fans bet on matches but setting itself apart as one of the few major firms that facilitates live streaming of games such that people can watch while making in-play bets. That may not be a meaningful distinction to non-bettors, but it makes bet365 particularly prominent in football.
The fact that this is a well-known company already closely intertwined with the football world makes El Economista’s criticism almost strange on the surface. Again, if this were some new company looking to make a splash it would be more understandable, whereas bet365’s involvement is nothing new. That said, when you read into why the colonization claim was made, it does make a little bit more sense. The company’s expansion into La Liga consists of sponsorship deals with 10 different teams, lasting at least until 2020. The list of teams that have signed on consists of Athletic, Betis, Celta, Eibar, Espanyol, Getafe, Huesca, Rayo Vallecano, Valladolid, and Villarreal.
However, even with this having made more of a splash than your average sponsorship deal, we shouldn’t expect for it to make much of a difference from the fan perspective. Looking through La Liga kits for 2018/19, you still don’t see “bet365” the way you do with Stoke City (or the way Leganes has Betway plastered across its chest). So, while the betting giant may have made a major play for financial influence in La Liga, it’s not going to be particularly visible, and it doesn’t appear to be poised to impact any one club more than others.