Perspectives: The Big Bet on English Football

Andy Milnes, Head of Brands, Nielsen Sports UK and Ireland

If you are one of the 18 million football fans in the UK, August represents one of the most optimistic months of year – a fresh campaign, a host of new signings and the relief at the return of Match of the Day (albeit after a break of only 70 days).

However, if you’re like me and work in the sports sponsorship industry, instead of getting excited by the latest club signings or promotion aspirations, you find yourself searching for the newest shirt sponsors, LED advertisers and club commercial partners.

The sports betting landscape

One thing that stands out for me already after the first couple of weekends of the season, is the influx of betting, gambling and gaming brands featuring on the front of teams’ jerseys. In 2016/17, 8 of the 24 SkyBet Championship clubs had such brands on front of their shirts, and in 2017/18 this has risen to 13. Consider that the Championship – English football’s second-tier – has its own title partner in SkyBet, and you can see viewers and fans alike have plenty of choices when it comes to placing a bet.

Our market intelligence shows that since 2011, the amount betting, gambling and gaming brands have invested into UK sponsorships has increased by over 170% to £70+ million in 2016, and we expect this number to increase again this season. We estimate around £16-£18 million will be spend on rights fees by betting, gambling and gaming brands on and in the SkyBet Championship this season – more than the entire sponsorship spend of the UK fast-food, supermarket and pharmaceutical sectors.

So why exactly do betting brands have such a desire to sponsor Championship clubs?

Brand Exposure
  • The SkyBet Championship affords brands a strong UK platform with a live audience of over 30 million that watched the competition across the 2016/17 season.
  • For brands that want to engage with football, the Football League offers a more cost-effective way to access the sport compared to the Premier League.
  • Brands appearing on the front of club jerseys in the competition can expect to see a global TV media “Return On Investment” of between 2:1 to 5:1 – therefore being able to demonstrate value for money versus traditional advertising spend.
Fan Engagement & Customer Acquisition 
  • Nielsen Sports’ research shows there are 12.5 million football fans in the UK claiming to have an interest in the SkyBet Championship. From a UK perspective, this provides a significant audience to engage with.
  • With 64% of football fans having claimed to have placed a bet in the past 12 months – and our data shows they have a claimed average stake of around £15 – you can see the lucrative opportunity this offers.
  • The division contains some of the best supported teams in the country. Leeds United and Aston Villa, for example, have fan-bases in excess of 500,000 – both would easily make the top 20 list of all UK teams in terms of size of fan-base.

In a cluttered marketplace and with such a lucrative opportunity in the form of football fans, the key question becomes how can betting, gambling and gaming brands who are sponsoring teams achieve cut-through? We are currently working with our clients, both rights holders and brands, in this space to help them maximise the opportunities across the following areas:

  • Betting, gambling and gaming brands should be working with their partners to set strategic objectives around their sponsorships that link back to their marketing strategy.
  • This gives a sponsorship strategic focus and helps steer all activation so that no energy (or budget) is wasted.
  • By working truly in partnership with the rights holder to engage fans, create and serve content, brands stand the best chance in succeeding in reaching both fans of their sponsored club, but also wider football fans in the market.
  • Simply having a brand logo on the front of a shirt is only part of the job. The creation of relevant and authentic content is key to engagement with fans.
  • The task of creating this content must feed back into the strategic objectives of the brand – is it a brand awareness campaign, are you looking to drive betting behaviour in a certain market, or is it about customer acquisition? Whatever the wider marketing objectives, activations must be built to support this.
  • Our UK Digital team are working with our clients to support them in creating valuable engaging content. Their latest views on this can be found here.


  • The importance of understanding the behaviour of football fans is more important than ever.
  • Not only is it vital to know about their betting traits and behaviours, but also where they go for content on the football clubs they support and how they are consuming it.
  • By utilising the data we hold on football fans activity, our brand clients stand the best chance of success by being able to execute the right content, on the right channel at the right time.
  • Finally, one of the most essential practices of all in creating successful partnerships is to know what success looks like – and that’s something we spend a significant amount of time working with our clients on.
  • Being able to effectively measure the KPIs you have set alongside the rights holder allows brands to understand how a partnership is performing, assess the impact of activations and ultimately evidence the business impact.
  • No two measurement frameworks are the same and being able to collect the right metrics, and explain them in a useful and insightful way in the key to demonstrating the true impact of the sponsorship across a business.

Andy Milnes, Head of Brands, Nielsen Sports UK and Ireland

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