As lockdown eases, the regulated betting and gaming industry’s support for sport will be as vital as ever.
It is undeniable that Britain is a nation of sport lovers. From football to rugby, cricket to snooker, millions of us like nothing more than cheering on our favourites. This was never more apparent than during the first national lockdowns, when the sporting calendar was disrupted like never before, leaving supporters bereft.
2020 had been shaping up to be packed, with a series of major sporting events to look forward to. The 2020 Cheltenham Festival was the last of the traditional gatherings before the country locked down and the sporting calendar was wiped out. The Virtual Grand National took the place of the traditional event, and provided race goers with a fun and socially distanced alternative to the real thing. Happily, Entain was able to raise £400,000 - and the regulated industry as a whole more than £2.9 million - for NHS Charities Together by donating all of our profits from the race.
Nevertheless, eagerly-anticipated events, such as Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics, were postponed until this year as the pandemic continued, leaving fans disappointed and organisers concerned over the financial ramifications. The unpredictability of the pandemic makes it difficult to estimate the exact financial implications, particularly for grassroots and smaller sports.
The relationship between our industry and sport has always been close and the recent focus on sponsorship has highlighted the benefits of our partnerships, especially in the current climate, with the funding we provide being such a vital source of economic support for many sports.
Football benefits greatly from industry support, receiving tens of millions of pounds in sponsorship income. However, the lower league clubs are the most reliant on funding and are hit the hardest by the effects of the pandemic, particularly the inability to let fans into their grounds. That is why we decided to launch our Pitching In programme last year. This will provide grassroots football with not only vital funding to sponsor their leagues, but the opportunity to apply for additional funding for community projects.
Horseracing, too, is a key beneficiary of industry support, receiving £350 million a year from sponsorship, media rights and the betting levy. All levels of the horseracing industry benefit from this income, from animal welfare to the racecourses, trainers and jockeys. Without this is it fair to say that horseracing would struggle to exist.
Other hugely popular sports which rely heavily on our industry’s support include snooker, darts and rugby league, which all benefit to the tune of several million pounds.
The return of live sport last year was undoubtedly a huge boost for the nation’s morale, although the ban on spectators, while necessary to stop the spread of Covid, was a financial blow which the support from our industry was able to soften.
Thankfully, we are now beginning to see fans coming back to our stadiums as the UK hopefully begins to emerge from the pandemic. We look forward to the symbiotic relationship between our industry and sport continuing to thrive, in a proportionate and sensible manner.
Grainne Hurst is Director of Corporate Affairs at Entain