Ladbrokes has announced that it'll continue its sponsorship of the Scottish Professional Football League throughout the 2018/19 and the 2019/20 seasons. The deal is expected to be worth around £5 million.
Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive of the SPNL, had only good things to say about the new agreement:
"We are thrilled that Ladbrokes has chosen to extend its title sponsorship of the SPFL for a further two years. We have enjoyed a superb partnership since they first came on board in 2015 and are confident that will continue to flourish until 2020 and hopefully beyond."
Ladbroke Coral Group's Chief Executive Jim Mullen reciprocated the sentiment, saying:
"We are delighted to be renewing the sponsorship of the SPFL. We knew when we started the sponsorship that we were associating with a sport that is followed with passion and dedication and it has proved to be an excellent partnership. Football beats at the heart of Scottish life, the cafés and canteens echo to the football conversation every week and we are delighted to be part of that conversation."
To casual observers, it might have seemed a given that Ladbrokes would stay on. The bookie has been sponsoring the Scottish League since 2015 after all. After the FA chose to end its partnership with the company last year however, the relationship between bookmakers and professional sports leagues has started to come under closer scrutiny.
The reason for the FA's decision was based on criticism that it was unable to act impartially as a regulator while receiving sponsorship from betting providers. It's a valid concern of course and one that the FA has taken seriously by cutting official partnerships with all betting providers, not only Ladbrokes. That said, there was no bad blood between the two organisations and they will continue to work together in other areas of the sport.
Given this decision, there have been similar calls for the SPFL to cut all official partnership programmes. A number of high-profile players and figures in the league, such as Joey Barton, Ian Black, Henry McClelland and Duncan Skinner, have all voiced their support for a more distant relationship between the league and betting providers.
Even though the FA has made its position clear, national leagues are still striking up their own deals. The recent deal between Sky Bet and the English Football League is just one such example.
Ladbrokes has been quick to address concerns about impartiality. Jim Mullen wanted to be clear about the focus of the new partnership:
"In being at the heart of the discussion we also want to make sure that it reflects that gambling should be fun, not a problem, and that is why our continued sponsorship will enable us to promote responsible gambling and work with clubs to ensure that the integrity of the sport is upheld."
Neil Doncaster echoed this sentiment:
"We are also aware of our social responsibilities as a senior professional league in Scotland and will continue to promote a message of responsible gambling in conjunction with Ladbrokes."
If both parties live up to their promise, then this renewed sponsorship could well help to clean up both the perception and reality of football betting in Scotland. This relationship has come under particular scrutiny from PFA Scotland Chairman, John Rankin, who claimed that 'gambling was rife within Scottish football'.
So far at least, both parties have been very transparent about their goals and partnership. While it could be argued that any real progress is unlikely, given that gambling is ultimately in the interests of both parties, the fact that there's an increasing amount of awareness and public scrutiny on this aspect of the game could be what encourages both bookmakers and football leagues to act. The FA's decision last year could be an indication of this shift.
Only time will tell how committed both parties are to responsible gambling. Bookmakers are certainly perfectly situated to address this issue and, as such, are likely to remain invaluable to the football industry, even outside of sponsorships.