InsightX contributes to the Financial Times’ investigation into Premier League betting sponsors

InsightX COO and Editor in Chief, Justin Williams, was interviewed as part of an investigation by the Financial Times into the ownership of gambling companies which sponsor the Premier League.

Justin, along with other leading experts, added commentary to journalist James Sandy’s film which examined how some betting firms use a web of shell companies and obscure ownership structures to hide their true identities. This practice raises questions about whether some clubs have been unwittingly taking money from betting brands linked to illegal gambling operations.

We took part in this investigation to help showcase the risks of failing to conduct adequate background checks on sponsors, and as an opportunity to encourage more football clubs and other sports rights holders to perform enhanced due diligence.

The film reveals a pattern of these betting companies targeting Chinese customers within China where gambling is largely illegal but also where Premier League football is extremely popular. These companies use the league as an advertising platform to reach this vast market, making use of everything from shirt sponsorships and pitch-side hoardings where their logos are plastered across televised matches.

The investigation flagged up three main concerns:

  • It uncovered an example of one of the convoluted ownership structures which involved multiple companies registered in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands. These layers of secrecy make it nearly impossible to trace the true owners and raises questions about the legitimacy of these brands and the source of their funding.
  • It flagged that there could be a potential connection between these brands and illegal proxy betting operations targeting Chinese customers. Proxy betting involves offshore gambling operators taking bets from customers in mainland China while evading Chinese authorities.
  • Closer to home, it detailed the use of “white label” providers to gain licences to offer their services in the UK. These white label companies, acting as intermediaries, often fail to conduct thorough due diligence on the brands they represent. This oversight allows potentially shady operators to enter the British market without adequate scrutiny. This is a topic insightX has written about significantly both on our blog and in our white papers.

Despite extensive efforts to uncover the truth, the investigation hit numerous dead ends, with many critical players remaining elusive. What the investigation did highlight however, is the need for greater transparency in sponsorships in the Premier League. Fans, clubs, and governing bodies should demand a clearer understanding of who stands behind these brands and how they operate. Only through transparency and extensive investigation can football, and sport, ensure that sponsorships are sourced ethically and adhere to legal and moral standards.

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