Serie A clubs told betting sponsorships can run until July but no later
Italy’s top soccer clubs have been told they can honour sponsorship deals with betting companies through to the end of the season in the face of legislation banning gambling advertising in the country.
Following a meeting yesterday, the Council of AGCOM, the Italian communications regulator, confirmed that the Dignità decree, which came into effect on 12 July, 2018, applied equally to advertising and sponsorship.
The decree, which was introduced by Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio of the Five-Star Movement, laid down that gambling advertising would be banned from 1 January, 2019, but that there would be a grace period of a year from the signing of the decree for existing commercial agreements to expire.
On 20 December, Serie A sent a letter to AGCOM, signed by the league’s president Gaetano Miccichè, seeking clarification on whether the proviso also applied to sponsorship deals.
In its response, AGCOM is reported to have said that “the sponsorship contracts in progress stipulated by football clubs with betting companies fall within the scope of paragraph 5 of article 9 of the decree that ‘suspends’ the Dignità for contracts in force until their expiration and in any case no more than one year after its enforcement.”
It also confirmed “the relationship of ‘genus ad speciem’ between advertising contracts and sponsorship contracts,” which will therefore be treated similarly, a conclusion shared by the Ministry of Economy, from which the Serie A clubs had also sought guidance.
The ruling means that branding for betting companies can continue to be displayed on playing and training shirts and on advertising boards in the stadiums until this July, after the end of the 2018-19 season.
Moreover, the league and the significant number of teams
with betting sponsors will be hopeful that the decree, which was brought in to
combat problem gambling in Italy, can still be overturned.
Italy’s state-run national lottery and its products are exempted from the ban on gambling advertising, which is being enforced on products and services advertised on television, the internet and radio.
Serie A teams with prominent betting partners include Lazio, which signed a short-term shirt deal with Marathonbet last August, and their local rivals Roma which had earlier entered a three-year agreement with Betway, including branding on the club’s training kit, both in full knowledge of the government plans.
At the time of the decree it was estimated that Italian gambling operators spent around €120 million ($138 million) a year on sponsoring sports teams and leagues.
Serie A said in a statement that it viewed the legislation with “extreme concern,” citing what it called “the obvious disparity with other nations in Europe and the rest of the world, where there are no such prohibitions, and highlighting the negative consequences in terms of turnover and employment in Italy due to the introduction of this measure…”
Pointing out that 45 per cent of Serie A clubs had betting company sponsors, it quoted research by Nielsen showing that such firms invested $633 million in the six largest European soccer leagues in the 10 years from 2008 to 2017.
The statement continued: “To prevent companies in this sector from investing in promotion in our own country would bring competitive disadvantages to Italian clubs, diverting abroad advertising budgets for our teams.”
The statement also suggested that the Italian state was in line to lose up to €700 million in tax revenues over the next three years alone, as a result of the ban.
Further resistance to the decree has come from the European Gaming and Betting Association, which has claimed it will encourage black market gambling in Italy.