Very rarely to decisions made in Parliament affect the little sport of rugby league but, in the instance of their discussions about fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT), it may well do just that.
Ladbrokes Coral – an partnership by the two companies which used to be independent – has explained this weekend that, if the powers that be make a decision unfavourable to their interests regarding the FOBTs, they may be forced to withdraw some – or all – of their sports funding. While the majority of their advertisement and sponsorship is on sports such as horse racing, the company are the official naming partners of rugby league’s Challenge Cup. In a period where the future structure of rugby league is uncertain, losing funding is far from an ideal situation for the RFL. 2017 saw the competition see more games televised by BBC and Sky than ever before and, as such, Ladbrokes were able to capitalise on the larger viewing figures.
The government are currently deciding whether to legally limit the maximum bet on FOBT to £2 from £100 per game/spin which would, obviously, lead to less revenue for the betting companies. While for individuals financial and mental well being it would surely be a good move, it would understandably hit the likes of Ladbrokes Coral hard in the pocket. As a result, the company may have to cut back on the £8m they contribute to the sports industry annually. As one of the more minor recipients of their sponsorship, rugby league would be likely to fall foul of the decision. Ladbrokes themselves explained that sports sponsorship is a two way street, saying that “yes we get exposure but it also helps sports finance their entire structures right down to grass-roots funding.”
It will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few months as the government reaches a decision but it is far from ideal that the sport of rugby league has another complication to consider when contemplating the future structure of the sport.