Everton are to end their sponsorship by the Kenyan gambling giant SportPesa at the end of this season, two years early, the club has announced.
The lucrative five-year deal with SportPesa, agreed in 2017, was one of the most high-profile and increasingly controversial of Premier League club sponsorships by gambling companies, which has prompted campaigners to warn of the social costs and “dire consequences” being caused by the increasing “gamblification” of football.
The early termination of the deal, which was understood to be for £7m a season, an Everton record, follows a strategic review of the club’s commercial operations led by the chief executive, Denise Barrett-Baxendale.
She responded to a question at the club’s AGM last month by saying that “in an ideal world” they would prefer a “different type of sponsor” than a gambling company. Everton’s desire to increase their activities and revenues with sponsors, in line with the club’s development and investment under the ownership of Farhad Moshiri, together with restrictions which apply when a sponsor is a gambling company, are understood to have been factors in the club approaching SportPesa to end the sponsorship early.
An Everton spokesperson said: “This has been a difficult decision but one that allows us to best deliver on our commercial plan and to grasp the new opportunities now open to us.
“The club would like to thank SportPesa for all of the work that has been done together. Our partnership has seen our first team visit Africa on two occasions, as well as former players and club staff take part in numerous activations in the region. This has allowed us to grow our own footprint in Africa and further strengthen our special relationship with the continent.”
SportPesa, founded by a partnership of Bulgarian casino operators and wealthy, influential Kenyans in Nairobi six years ago, grew rapidly by promoting online gambling in the country. Last summer the Kenyan government expressed concerns about young people becoming addicted to betting and falling into debt, and toughened its regulatory approach to the companies, suspending many licences, including that of SportPesa.
The company had expanded quickly into the UK and Europe, agreeing partnerships with Arsenal, Southampton and Hull City, before it become the main sponsor at Everton. The company set up an office in Liverpool’s Liver building, where Everton’s offices are also now based, and were marketed as a partner which had “a strong alignment” with Everton’s values, including by being involved in Everton’s community programme.
At their last home game, against Crystal Palace, Everton used it as the annual match clubs can use to promote a good cause by wearing on their shirts the name of their own community programme rather than SportPesa. Although the club has not committed to ending gambling sponsorships, given Barrett-Baxendale’s remarks at the AGM it must be considered unlikely that the main sponsor from next season will be a betting company.