By Owain Flanders
As a Leeds United fan, there were two main things I took away from last weekend’s English Championship football game between Leeds and Derby County.
Firstly, it reconfirmed that if there’s one thing my team loves to do (and I mean absolutely loves to do) it’s throw away a deserved lead in the dying minutes of a game.
Secondly, it demonstrated 32Red’s new commitments to responsible gambling, which were almost as underwhelming as Leeds' attempts to put the ball in the back of the net.
Last week, as the operator’s official sponsorship partner, Derby, announced there would be an increase in 32Red’s responsible gambling commitments which would see "responsible gambling messaging dominate all matches where two 32Red sponsored teams play each other."
Kindred Group, owner of 32Red, confirmed the news in a press release, and its UK Manager Neil Banbury explained the reasons behind the push: "Football clubs have a unique reach and cut through with adult audiences, and as such are a great avenue for promoting healthier gambling behaviour and advocating for control."
Banbury definitely has a point, and as the operator sponsors both Derby and Leeds, I was interested to see what new responsible gambling messages would be displayed as I tuned in.
The reality was disappointing. A slogan beneath usual 32Red branding on the front of the Leeds shirts read ‘Keep Gambling Fun,’ while Derby players had been given ‘Play Responsibly.’
Not the most emotive of slogans, but also a highly problematic one for Leeds. With cameras typically positioned to film the pitch and the players from one side, often the message would read ‘Keep Gambling’ or ‘Gambling Fun’... not exactly ideal.
Meanwhile, despite Kindred’s insistence that its "LED stadium perimeter advertising board assets" would be laden with responsible gambling messages, the usual 32Red logo being on display around the vast majority of the pitch was untouched, other than for a few remaining boards displaying safer gambling tools.
All in all, a far-cry from the dominant messaging promised in Derby’s press release.
This is all the more important when considering the probable reasoning behind this sudden responsible gambling push: 32Red’s recent negative media attention in the UK press.
The operator received criticism this summer after details surfaced of a deal involving Wayne Rooney.
The agreement will see the ex-England international wear the number 32 shirt when he joins Derby County in January next year, as part of the club’s partnership with 32Red.
It's the first deal of its kind in English football and, due to the high-profile player involved, has attracted a lot of attention from anti-gambling media in the UK.
In an article written at the time, Gambling Insider laid bare the issues with this deal and why it might not have come at the right time.
Kenny Alexander, CEO of GVC Holdings, went as far as to call the agreement "preposterous and ridiculous."
He said: "There is a huge debate around problem gambling. The industry has got an image issue and that is just a complete own goal."
It would certainly be hard to disagree with Alexander. At a time when there is increased scrutiny on gambling advertisement in football, the Wayne Rooney deal only amplified the issue once more, while 32Red’s response this weekend seemed lacklustre to say the least.
After GVC was fined £5.9m ($7.2m) by the Gambling Commission earlier this year for social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures, the operator donated 42 football sponsorships to GambleAware, now funding its Bet Regret Campaign aiming to reduce problem gambling.
While GVC’s tactics have been labelled by some as disingenuous in nature, the operator is still providing vital funding to a worthy cause regardless of motive.
By comparison, 32Red's attempts to combat negative press are miniscule.
That being said, it is important to note some effort has been made on the part of the operator, and evidently the desire is there to improve its image even if the method is unsatisfactory. But as the industry feels more and more pressure from the public and the government in regards to football sponsorship, it is important operators pull together for the same cause.
One thing is for sure, 32Red’s recent demonstration certainly won't have changed any minds.