The multi-year deal kicks off at the start of this coming season and, as part of the partnership, BetUK will provide a free-to-play predictor game for Premiership Rugby’s app. BetUK customers will also get access to live streams of Premiership games to improve the in-play betting experience for punters.
The deal grabbed our attention. In our last column, we examined some of the reputational issues confronting the gambling industry, illustrating with our data how the sector faces some challenging public perceptions.
With that in mind, it was interesting to note that when Premiership Rugby launched the partnership they did so by using four of the first six paragraphs to talk about safe and responsible gambling.
But what really piqued our interest was this big move into rugby by BetUK and its parent company, LeoVegas.
The football market is, of course, all but saturated with sponsorship deals. Last season nine of 20 Premier League club shirts featured the logo of a betting company. Among the 24 EFL Championship clubs, that number increased to 17.
Yet the Premier League itself has severed its ties with betting companies – it has no official betting partner, having severed links with Ladbrokes one year into a four-year deal in 2017. At the time, it signaled that the decision was down to its revised governance and integrity policies.
Premiership Rugby, however, has no such saturation problems. Shirt sponsors range from Dyson to DHL but there is no blanket betting advertising or sponsorship. But what does this mean? Are the smaller audiences which rugby attracts simply not worth the salt for betting companies? Or is there a feeling that rugby fans aren’t big betters – and aren’t therefore worth targeting compared to better-established markets?
We took a quick dive into the data to see what light we could cast on this disparity – and see which sport’s fans offered the biggest market for betting companies.
Using our SportsIndex and BrandIndex services, which every day track perceptions of brands and sports events/leagues, we took a look at consumer habits.
The chart above shows the proportion of fans of each sport who are currently customers of betting companies. It captures an average figure for the past year – to avoid the ups and downs which are likely to show in a snapshot of data.
What it shows is that of all the sports we’ve selected here, rugby union fans are among the least likely to have placed a bet in the last year. In fact, only fans of motorsports and tennis are less likely to have done so.
While it’s perhaps no surprise that fans of horse-racing are the most likely to have placed a bet in the past year, it is notable that they are almost twice as likely to have done so than fans of any other sport. To an extent, this data-point helps to quantify the unique relationship we know exists between horseracing and betting.
So from a commercial point of view, the BetUK deal with Premiership Rugby looks like good sense. While it’s probably not within BetUK’s sights to drive the size of the rugby betting market up to horse-racing levels, there is every reason to believe that it could nudge it up to the levels of betting seen among football fans.
The pool of rugby fans is, of course, smaller than the pool of football fans – and less global. Our data shows that 18.8m Brits follow football, compared to 9.3m rugby fans. But assuming that was priced into the Premiership Rugby deal, BetUK could just have made a very smart move.