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Football fans were bombarded with 11,000 gambling messages during the opening weekend of the latest Premier League season, according to a study that warns of “overwhelming and inescapable” betting imagery in the game.
Clubs in the top flight agreed earlier this year to ban gambling firms from sponsoring the front of players’ shirts from 2025, but the research – which analysed social media posts alongside hours of TV and radio – cast doubt on the likely effect of that measure, given the saturation of football with other gambling messages.
The report, commissioned by 5 News from the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research, raised several key concerns including:
the sheer volume of gambling messages;
social media content not clearly labelled as ads; and
insufficient safer gambling messaging.
Across six live matches broadcast on TV over the season’s opening weekend, the 11 to 14 August, viewers were shown 6,966 gambling messages, including logos on shirts, pitchside hoardings and commercial breaks. Of those, only a fifth were accompanied by a message supporting safer gambling, according to the study.
The authors raised particular concerns about social media, finding that 1,902 gambling ads over the first weekend of the Premier League were seen 34m times.
Of “content marketing” posts by gambling firms – typically those that discuss or describe match action – 92% were not clearly identifiable as advertising and some could therefore be in breach of advertising regulations, the report said.
It also found that there were 600 gambling messages during just two hours of broadcasting on Sky Sports News, while TalkSport featured at least one gambling ad during every commercial break.
Amid growing scepticism about the Premier League’s proposed ban on front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling firms, the study cast further doubt on the measure, which the 20 top flight clubs put forward voluntarily.
They said the move was “unlikely to significantly reduce the frequency of gambling messages, as it fails to address the presence of logos on other locations such as pitchside hoardings, while clubs will still be allowed to carry logos on shirt-sleeves”.
The decision to forgo front-of-shirt sponsors followed public concern about children’s exposure to gambling, as well as a series of high-profile instances of players being punished for breaking Football Association rules forbidding betting on the game.
Brentford FC and England striker, Ivan Toney, is serving an eight-month ban for breaching the betting rules and has spoken publicly about his addiction.
The former Newcastle United and Cardiff City striker, Michael Chopra, told 5 News the amount of betting sponsorship in football had made his own addiction worse. He said: “As soon as I stepped off that white line and was sitting in the changing room, I remember a Cardiff City strip – we had a betting company sponsor. So I’m sitting direct across from someone, looking at another player, straight away there’s a trigger.”
The government published a white paper on reform of gambling regulation earlier this year but took no action on advertising or football sponsorship.
The gambling minister, Stuart Andrew, recently told the culture select committee that there was “little evidence” of a link between ads and gambling-related harm. However, one overarching assessment of research into gambling advertising, published in the journal Public Health in February, called for advertising restrictions.
While researchers acknowledged “significant limitations” in the evidence base, they found: “In the absence of definitive controlled studies, the substantial and consistent evidence base supports restrictions to reduce exposure to gambling advertising.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “There are already robust rules in place to make sure gambling advertising is socially responsible but, as part of our gambling white paper plans, the Premier League has committed to a front-of-shirt sponsorship ban from the end of the 2025/26 season.
“We are also introducing new rules to prevent aggressive practices from gambling operators which may be targeting customers showing signs of harm.”
A spokesperson for the gambling industry trade body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BCG), said its members committed 20% of TV and radio advertising to safer gambling messages and would do the same with digital advertising.
“Our members have also introduced new age gating rules for advertising on social media platforms, targeting ads to those aged 25 and over unless a platform can verifiably prove that its age gating systems can prevent under-18s from accessing gambling advertising content.”
The BGC also indicated that it did not believe sponsorship counted as marketing.
Sky Sports News declined to comment. TalkSport was approached for comment.