A couple of days ago, Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the British National Health Service (NHS) said that foreign-owned betting companies who sponsor British football clubs should financially contribute to paying for gambling addicts’ treatment. I am all in favour of this, although I think some money should also be allocated to education, prevention, and (predictably) research. This is also an area that I have written about recently.
More specifically, I and my colleague Dr. Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez published a paper earlier this year entitled ‘Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football’ in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Using data about sponsorship deals from English Football Premier League, we demonstrated that gambling marketing has become firmly embedded in the financial practices of many Premiership football clubs. We argued that these associations are not trivial, and that the symbolic linkage of sport and newer gambling forms may become an issue of public health, especially affecting vulnerable groups such as minors and problem gamblers.
A major preoccupation regarding gambling intersection with sports has been the marketing of betting as an experience inherently associated with the symbolic culture of sport. By emphasising its connections with sports, the marketing and advertising of betting has been theorised to pursue the ‘sanitation’ of gambling, transferring the health-related symbolic attributes of sport and physical exercise to betting behaviour. In this regard, of great concern is the effects that an excessive volume of betting marketing might have on vulnerable groups such as minors and young adults and individuals suffering or recovering from gambling disorder. Furthermore, additional issues might arise in the event that those new categories that extend the definition of sports gambling (i.e., trading, other gambling forms such as poker, and fantasy games) seeking to market their products in alignment with (or appropriation of) sports’ core values and positive attributes. Early examples of this marketing strategy can be found in the sport stars’ endorsement of poker brands such as the footballers Neymar Jr. and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the tennis player Rafael Nadal.
We asserted in our paper that football shirt sponsorship is arguably a good proxy to calibrate the volume of gambling marketing in English football. Table 1 shows the shirt sponsor evolution over a decade (from the 2007/2008 to 2016-2017 seasons). First team shirt sponsorship with gambling companies evolved from four deals in 2008, six deals in 2012, to ten deals in 2017, accounting for half of the 20 English Premier League teams. The saturation of shirt logos owned by gambling brands has evolved rapidly over a relatively short period of time. However, some industry voices have been anticipating a decline in the numbers of shirts being sponsored by gambling firms due to their incapacity to compete with other business sector, although such a decline has yet to materialise.
In the same vein, it has been noted that most of the football teams with shirts sponsored by gambling companies are among the less powerful in the league, both in terms of economic profitability and sporting success. Analysing the data from end of season table positions indeed demonstrates a bias of gambling companies sponsoring teams towards the bottom of the table. Thus, the four teams (out of 20 in the English Premier League) with gambling logos in 2007/08 finished the league 6th, 7th, 11th, and 15th. In 2011-12, the six teams sponsored by gambling companies finished 10th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 18th, and 20th. In 2016/2017 season, the ten teams with gambling sponsors showed an almost perfect inverse correlation between table position and gambling-origin shirt sponsor, ranking 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th (19th being a money loan company).
This could be interpreted as a nuanced strategy. More specifically, gambling operators might believe they have enough global exposure that the league as whole offers, without needing to pay premium sponsorship deals to attach their brand to the most supported and successful teams (because all the lower ranked teams have to play all the upper ranked teams and therefore get equal advertising exposure during televised games).
Table 2 shows the breadth of the gamblification process by focusing on sponsorship deals running through 2016-17 season in the English Premier League. As can be observed, all teams secured at least one official betting partner, with some of them having multiple partners due to regional deals in strategic markets to provide so-called ‘geo-targeted’ betting experience. An illustration example is Arsenal club’s deals with 12Bet company in Asia, Betfair in Europe, SportPesa in Kenya, and Tempobet in Oceania. Altogether, the 20 English Premier League teams totalled 20 different betting brands, with 12 brands sponsoring only one team, five brands sponsoring two teams, and three brands sponsoring three different teams. Despite how fragmented the betting market might look, these brands represent only a small fraction of the actual number operating in association with the English football. In fact, betting brands are generally considered to offer poorly differentiated products in highly competitive markets. Consequently, marketing plays a significant part in artificially creating singular attributes that facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of customers.
Sponsorship deals with trading companies are not as prevalent as betting sponsorships. However, 14 out of 20 English Premier League teams have linked partnership deals with trading companies – most notably forex trading – for 2016/17 season. Only one trader (EZTrader) sponsors two different teams, while the rest are unique sponsors. Arguably, the same betting market attributes of low product differentiation and competitive environment also applies to trading firms.
Fantasy gaming is rapidly becoming a large component of sports appreciation, especially in the USA where fantasy sports appears to have partially absorbed the consumer base for online sports betting, an illegal activity in most states. Although still in its infancy in Europe, eight out of 20 English teams already have agreements in place with fantasy sports companies, some of which include a deal with DraftKings, the leading company along with FanDuel in USA’s fantasy gaming market. The concentration of brands here is slightly higher than in the case of betting and trading sponsorships, but six different brands still populate the growing fantasy gaming market in the English Premier League.
The detrimental effect on public health of an increase in the sports betting marketing volume is difficult to demonstrate. British data collected by the Gambling Commission is inconclusive due to the lack of definition of what constitutes gambling on sports. In general, research has found difficult to substantiate the causal association between gambling advertising exposure and behaviour, particularly when the effects of such exposure might take place weeks or months later. Despite the difficulties of finding empirical evidence of the real impact of marketing on betting behaviour, many authors have acknowledged that the association between marketing and gambling disorder is plausible, at least theoretically.
The sports betting marketing and advertising growth could be theorised to have two effects. First, an increase in gambling advertising exposure will lead to a higher prevalence rate of problem gambling. Many scholars have indicated that problem gamblers are usually more exposed to advertising (e.g., they visit more frequently gambling websites or watch more sport events), therefore it cannot be established whether they gamble more because they are exposed to more marketing instances or the are more exposed because they gamble more. However, a study I published with my Norwegian colleagues at the University of Bergen conducted among 6,034 Norwegian gamblers found that problem gamblers had a greater involvement with gambling advertising even when they were similarly exposed than regular non-problem gamblers.
Second, an overall rise in the consumption of gambling products following more aggressive marketing strategies, even while maintaining stable the percentage of people experiencing gambling-related harm, would lead to a rise in absolute numbers of people developing gambling problems. Simply put, keeping problem gambling rate constant, the more people that bet on sports, the more problem gamblers.
There is a wide consensus that sports betting marketing (and advertising) must be regulated, and is the case in most jurisdictions including the UK. However, there is no specific protection concerning the marketing of trading and fantasy gaming as a specific product category associated with sports. Finally, our paper noted that although there is no scientific evidence the marketing agreements between football clubs and the gambling industry are actually having a detrimental effect on the aforementioned vulnerable groups, it makes theoretical sense to think that they might potentially cause harm.
Note: This article was co-written with Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D., Estévez, A., Guerrero-Solé F. & Lopez-Gonzalez, H. (2018). A brief overview of online sports betting advertising and marketing. Casino and Gaming International, 33, 51-55.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Marketing and advertising online sports betting: A problem gambling perspective. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41, 256-272.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Controlling the illusion of control: A grounded theory of sports betting advertising in the UK. International Gambling Studies, 18, 39-55.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 20, 495-503.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Betting, forex trading, and fantasy gaming sponsorships – A responsible marketing inquiry into the ‘gamblification’ of English football. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 404-419.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Understanding the convergence of online sports betting markets. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, in press.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H. Guerrero-Solé, F., Estévez, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Betting is loving and bettors are predators: A Conceptual Metaphor Approach to online sports betting advertising. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.
Lopez-Gonzalez, H., Guerrero-Sole, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). A content analysis of how ‘normal’ sports betting behaviour is represented in gambling advertising. Addiction Research and Theory, 26, 238-247.
Although I have published a number of papers on the psychology of gambling advertising, branding, and marketing, I cannot claim to be in expert in the more general area of branding psychology. However, I feel more knowledgeable about the area having just read a fascinating paper by Sascha Topolinski, Michael Zürn and Iris Schneider recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Their paper examines “the biomechanical connection between articulation and ingestion-related mouth movements to introduce a novel psychological principle of brand name design”. Now I’m sure a lot of you will be none-the-wiser from that description but keep with me because I think what they have done is ingenious. Before I get to the heart of their research findings, I ought to add that I also learned a lot in their paper’s introduction. For instance:
- Repeated exposure to brands increase positive attitudes and the likelihood of eventual brand choice, and also increases the fluency of a brand name.
- Repetition-induced high fluency due to advertising depends upon subtle mouth exercises. Activities that stop this happening (such as eating popcorn while watching an advert in the cinema) inhibit the effect of the advertising.
- Easier to pronounce brand names (unsurprisingly) increases fluency. The easier the brand name is to pronounce, the more positive individual’s attitudes are towards the brand.
- Consumer responses to brands can be influenced by how the name of brand sounds (so-called ‘phonetic symbolism’). In these instances “the sound of a word conveys certain characteristics of the denoted object or product, such as size, color, or touch. For instance, some vowels sound high (for instance [i] as in SWEET), and other vowels sound low, (for instance [u] as in LOOP). High vowels are associated with little, fast, or light objects, while low vowels are associated with large, steady, or heavy objects”. Research has shown that fictitious brand names for hammers (that are heavy items) are preferred by consumers when they contain low vowels whereas fictitious brand names for knives (that are light items) are preferred by consumers when they contain high vowels.
Based on these research findings, Dr. Topolinski and colleagues reached the conclusion that in relation to brand names, consumer choice can be influenced by word sounds and articulation fluency. However, their new research studies (seven studies in one paper) went beyond this by examining consumer behaviour towards brands based on the muscle movements while saying the name of the brand. The studies constructed brand names for diverse products that are spoken inwardly (from the front to the rear of the mouth, such as the fictitious brand name ‘BODIKA’), or are spoken outwardly (from the rear to the front, such as the brand name ‘KODIBA’). Here is the authors’ easy-to-understand explanation:
‘[It] is possible to construe words that feature consonant sequences that wander either from the front to the rear (inward) or from the rear to the front (outward) of the mouth. Take, for instance, the three consonants K, D, and P. Arranged in the word KADAP, first the rear back of the tongue is pressed against the soft palate to generate K, then the tip of the tongue is pressed against the soft palate to generate D, and then the lips are pressed together to generate P. These muscle tensions thus wander from the rear to the front of the mouth, this is, outward. Reversely, arranged in the word PADAK, first the lips are pressed together, then the tip of the tongue touches the soft palate, and then the rear back of the tongue touches the soft palate. These muscle tensions wander from the front to the rear, of the mouth, that is, inward. Combining such articulatory patterns with the muscle patterns of ingestion and expectoration, it is obvious that inward consonantal wanderings (PADAK) resemble the muscular dynamics during ingestion, and outward consonantal wanderings (KADAP) resemble the muscular dynamics during expectoration…Since ingestion is positively associated, and expectoration is negatively associated…consonantal wanderings may feel positive and outward wanderings may feel negative”.
The seven studies that were carried out (comprising a total of 1,261 participants) compared the fictitious inward speaking brand name (e.g., ‘BODIKA’) with the fictitious outward speaking brand name (e.g., ‘KODIBA’). The results of the seven studies (using a variety of different methodologies including laboratory experiments and surveys, and including participants that spoke different languages [German and English]) were very revealing. In summary, the participants (i) preferred the inward name product to the outward name, and (ii) reported higher likelihood to purchase the inward named product, and (iii) reported higher willingness-to-pay for the inward named brand (participants said they would pay 4-13% more for the inward name brand). The same effects were found in both English and German language. The authors concluded:
“[The] present approach exploits the biomechanical connection between articulation and ingestion to introduce a novel psychological principle for brand name design. Brands for which the consonantal articulation spots wander inwards in the mouth compared to outwards are preferred, elicit higher purchase intentions, and even trigger higher willingness-to-pay with a substantial possible monetary gain”.
The paper did make me wonder about implications for brand names in the gambling industry. All things being equal, it suggests that gamblers may prefer to spend their money with companies such as PKR and Bet 365 than Corals and 888.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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