UK based bookmakers will no longer be able to offer streaming services for FA Cup fixtures as The Football Association stepped in to prevent the sale of any FA Cup match streaming rights to UK betting sites.
The move comes as a big U-turn after a previous deal between the FA and selected bookmakers allowed them to broadcast some FA Cup fixtures. An existing agreement between the football governing body and the IMG media rights agency was made in 2017.
Under the deal, IMG offered respective matches to several UK betting platforms, who could then broadcast them on their platforms. Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet, and Paddy Power offered were among the companies to live stream FA Cup matches.
However, the FA is set to finalise a new broadcast deal shortly, which will change the existing arrangement with IMG. Increasing pressure on the FA and gambling companies has contributed to the U-turn, which is likely to impact interest and viewership in the FA Cup.
Why is the FA withdrawing from the broadcast deal with bookmakers?
As part of the 2017 agreement between the FA and IMG, betting sites could broadcast FA Cup matches on their platforms from the 2019/20 season. This setup has been commonplace in recent seasons and most of the fixtures, that were not selected for TV coverage, were shown on bookmaker websites.
Betting sites, like bet365, offered live-streaming services to customers who deposited a £5 minimum to their account. Customers could then watch third-round matches without the need to wager on the platforms.
But question marks were raised over the deal in 2020 after 23 of the 25 FA Cup third round ties not selected for TV were shown live on bet365’s website and mobile app. This led to a discussion in British parliament about the moral impact of the deal, its impact on bettors and the role of the FA and their broadcasting deals.
When the issue was raised in parliament in January 2020, MP Carolyn Harris voiced concerns about how linking the broadcasting rights with bookmakers could lead to gambling addiction.
In response, then Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Nigel Adams, wished for the ‘momentum’ for the deal to continue. But the MP also highlighted those bookmakers and broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their customers.
Why is there pressure on the FA?
While momentum has continued, with bet365 continuing to broadcast live FA Cup matches for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, it appears that the FA is willing to end the existing agreement sooner than the initial 2024 expiration date.
Continued pressure on the FA to re-think the deal with IMG has led to further intervention from parliament recently. On Wednesday, January 12, 2022, DCMS undersecretary Chris Philip, charged with overseeing gambling sector reforms, met with football leaders to highlight some of the potential issues. These are centred around links between football organisations, broadcasting and betting companies.
In another U-turn from 2017, the FA is seemingly keen to end any existing relationships with bookmakers. An upcoming review of the Gambling Act of 2005 is expected to highlight some of the issues around sponsorship and sports betting. This review will also look into betting companies’ involvement in sponsorship within sports. As a result, England’s football governing body is looking to step back from any ties with bookmakers.
A loss for FA Cup viewership and accessibility
It also appears that betting companies are happy to remove the FA Cup streaming services from their platforms after the 2021/22 season. This highlights the amount of growing opposition towards gambling and its direct involvement in football broadcasting.
But the streaming service could be a big loss for affordable viewership of England’s flagship cup competition. Only a handful of FA Cup fixtures are selected for TV coverage and these often exclude lower league ties, which, for the first time in a generation, were readily available for a small cost via betting services.
Removing the existing agreement is a fine balance between the accessibility of live football and promoting safe and responsible gambling. The ideal balance would be a medium of bringing live streamed FA Cup matches to a wider audience base for a small cost, but removing the need to deposit funds to a bookmaker account.
Ultimately, this appears unlikely due to the sheer amount of opposition towards online gambling and its link with professional sports.
Next season, fewer FA Cup matches will be readily available to view and the large fanbases won’t have as much selection of matches compared to the previous three seasons. Often, fans have no selection on the FA Cup ties they wish to view, which can diminish spectators’ enjoyment of one of English football’s most high-profile competitions.