Date: 2nd July 2019 at 8:00am
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Yesterday came the big announcement that Norwich City have cut short their contract with LeoVegas as the club’s main shirt sponsor and replaced them with Dafabet.

It’s something that we’ve known was coming for some time over here at Vital HQ and which was discussed on the Vital Norwich Forum a month or so ago. I keep telling you to get on the forum, there are some interesting content and conversations going on over there, with news often released there before the front page you’re reading now.

Anyway, back to the big announcement.

As you could probably predict, this news has been subject to a variety of different opinions in the Canary Nation and particularly on social media. There are plenty of fans that think that this is a poor decision by the club and by that, I mean choosing another gambling company as the principal sponsor.

City’s Chief Operating Officer, Ben Kensell, commented: “This really is an exceptional deal for Norwich City Football Club. Not only is it the most lucrative partnership the Club has ever had by some way, this partnership alongside our commercial operation allows us to be materially more competitive as a self-financed club. Something we are constantly striving to be in everything we do.

Securing shirt sponsorships at this level is of vital importance and with Dafabet’s history and longevity in sports sponsorship, we have an excellent partner to join us on our journey. We are delighted to be partnered with a top class and respected brand, synonymous with football and sporting sponsorships.

“We are also very pleased that Gravity Trampoline Parks will continue to sponsor our youth replica kits. We look forward to launching the three new Premier League kits over the next month with the home kit to be launched on Saturday, July 6.”

Asked by the EDP about the morality issues surrounding the principal partner being a gambling company, Kensell responded:

I understand completely,” he continued. “We were fortunate enough to have two or three options that we could have chosen, all within that sector, because that sector pays three or four times what a non-betting brand would pay.

The stark reality is that as a club we have to make these decisions, sometimes those decisions clash with our values.

“It will always be a contentious issue and what we want to do is ensure that from a community club perspective that we are still living and breathing our community values in everything that we do.

“But the stark realities are that from a commercial perspective this is one of our largest assets and if we didn’t make the most money out of that – and have the best partner that suited the club from a financial perspective – then quite frankly I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

That final explanation from Ben is what I wanted to talk about.

The reality is that Norwich City are a self-funded club that has found itself in a big financial fix over the last couple of years. The running of any top level football club is hugely expensive and as Ben has said there, it’s his job to get the best commercial deals to help the club out in that regard.

The question of morality is the crux of the question here, I’d say.

Kensell alluded to “making decisions that sometimes clash with our values”, which suggests that although the club know that this new deal will have plenty of detractors, it is a necessity for Norwich City.

There are now, I think I’m right in saying, no football clubs in any of Europe’s top leagues that don’t have a shirt sponsor. The last big club to not have a shirt sponsor was FC Barcelona.

In 2004, the first name ever to appear on a Barca shirt was an unusual one in the form of charity, UNICEF with Barca actually paying the charity to have UNICEF’s name on their shirt. The Catalan giants were paying €1.5m a year to UNICEF’s AIDS projects.

In 2013 though, Barca finally caved and announced their first fully commercial sponsor, Qatar Airways. The thing here is that even a club like Barca felt the need to get into the sponsorship market, with their biggest rivals in La Liga, Real Madrid gaining a financial advantage over them because of their own deals and that brings me back to Norfolk.

Norwich don’t have that billionaire owner that a lot of clubs in the Premier League do. Even those that do, take advantage of shirt sponsors and I think we’re all agreed that they provide a very important source of income to clubs.

The decision to go for a betting company is purely a commercial one and I’m not getting too hung up on it. I know that gambling can be a terrible addiction and it’s something that has affected my own family. None of us want our children to be involved in it, the same as we don’t want them to grown up to be drug users or alcoholics.

The reality of the situation is that betting has become a huge past time for a lot of people and it’s big business. It’s not my thing but it is for plenty of other people.

Norwich join a number of Premier League teams that have agreed sponsorship deals with gambling operators in recent weeks.

Wolverhampton Wanderers have linked up with ManBetX, while Watford have struck up a partnership with, Burnley have signed with LoveBet and Aston Villa have confirmed deals with both BR88 and W88.

Like I say, this is a purely commercial deal for the Canaries, the same as the LeoVegas one was before it and the AVIVA deal prior to that. It’s all about money and the notion of morality, it could be argued, is a romantic one amongst the fan base.

A fan’s attachment to a football club is an emotional one. We aren’t so concerned about the business side of things but we’re desperate to see the football side do well. It’s goals and winning games that hook us and keep us hooked, not balancing the books.

There’s a poll on the EDP website with about 3,500 respondents and it’s roughly a 40% split between those who aren’t bothered, 40% against it and the other 20% who are okay with it.

Football at this level is a business though, it has to be, the magic in Emi Buendía’s feet doesn’t come for free and Range Rovers and Porsches don’t run themselves.

Would the club prefer to strike a deal for the same money with Qatar Airways? I’m guessing they would but the likes of that sort of company don’t come knocking for Norwich City. Just like with LeoVegas, the club only had a certain number of options, with Kensell telling us that there were “two or three options”  all within the gambling sector and that this was the best one.

The Canaries are not in a position to be able to knock back such big deals with the club in it’s current financial state. This money will help to safeguard the finance side of things while Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke attempt to stabilise the Canaries in the Premier League.

You shouldn’t expect that all this money will go into signing a new star player, because it won’t. As I wrote earlier, this is not a new development and it’s going to have been part of the club’s summer planning (and beyond) for a while, probably since promotion opened this particular door.

Like I say, I’m not getting too hung up on Dafabet being a gambling company. I might not like it but it’s happened because it offers the best deal and that is what Kensell and his team are tasked with doing for Norwich City. Ben’s area of expertise comes from the commercial department and he’s been responsible for plenty of the recent money making sponsor deals as well as the Take That concerts at Carrow Road, which were a triumph, whether you like their music or not.

I know only too well how gambling can grip a person, as I say, I have family experience of that.

The club are doing their level best though to maximise this opportunity of being in the Premier League and this is just part of it.


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