In January the European Commission (EC) hired a consortium composed of the TMC Asser Institute, Asser International Sports Law Center and the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam to conduct a comprehensive study, analyzing the exploitation of sports events’ rights in the EU.
One of the main foci of the study is “the possibility of establishing licensing practices beyond the media field, in particular in the area of gambling,” with the results due in November. The EC can then decide whether any of the issues raised require EU action.
As part of preparing the study, several Dutch sports and gambling experts gathered this week at the TMC Asser Institute in Hague, to discuss the opportunities and threats of linking domestic sports and betting.
While it is not unusual to see major online sports betting operator logos on football players’ shirts (e.g. Bwin’s 2007-2013 sponsorship of Real Madrid), such exposure is the frequent subject of debates.
Considering the restrictive nature of the local gambling regulations (e.g., Dutch internet casinos are non-existent, sports betting has been a fiercely guarded state monopoly, etc.), the Netherlands has adopted an extremely cautious approach in evaluating the available options.
Jelle Beuker, operational director of Eerste Divisie, the Dutch second-tier football league summarized it thusly: “We are taking a serious look at the developments in this field. What does it bring us and what not? What can we do and what shouldn’t we do?”
Mr. Beuker went on to add that attention must also be paid “to the dark sides, which are match-fixing and gambling addiction. We must talk about that together, for me those are more important than the commercial side. How can we solve or reduce these issues.”
Most of the worries in Europe stem from the perceived detrimental potential of big money bets on sports. At the same time sports clubs are always in need of further financing and many of them stake their hopes on such arrangements.
Jeroen van Veen, director of commercial affairs of Federation Eredivisie Basketball is aware of both sides of the coin. “Of course we are concerned about the image of the sport and match-fixing, in which gamblers try to exert influence on the game,” said Mr. van Veen, who went on to explain that initial revenue expectations are not very high.
According to his calculations the payments could range around “50 to 100 euros per betting operator per match. But with a multitude of operators and competitions it can be very lucrative, because there is little or no investment attached. We can offer 200 matches, with for example 50 euros per match and 100 operators to deliver the images.”
Henk Kesler, formerly a director of the Dutch football association and now a director of the Netherlands Gaming Authority, was quick to dampen the expectations when he said that “the sports sector should not think that the goose with the golden eggs arrived and sports clubs can earn an incredible amount of money.”
“So many betting providers out there might even not be interested, or only interested in a small group of big clubs. For now, the sports organizations should not have too high expectations,” added Mr. Kesler.
Another local concern – but one, which is not unique to the Netherlands – is that Dutch gambling laws do not allow any foreign sports betting sites to sign up local gamblers. The government has in fact used the courts very actively over the past couple of years to chase Ladbrokes, Bwin and Unibet out of the Dutch market.
Therefore to now allow some of them to sponsor prominent local clubs would likely be interpreted as a highly hypocritical move, involving political costs that no one may be ready to undertake.
While legislative efforts are underway to remove the monopoly on internet betting in the Netherlands, another two years could be needed at the very least before any actual changes take place. It is unlikely that sponsorship deals would be struck much sooner either.