THE Commercial Director of one of Scotland’s top clubs believes that the era of sponsorship by gambling firms in Scottish football could be coming to an end after the owners of the Scottish Professional Football League’s title sponsor, Ladbrokes, called for ban on gambling ads linked to sport.

Kenny Alexander, the chief executive of GVC, who operate Ladbrokes and Coral, announced a raft of measures yesterday designed to protect problem gamblers, pledging to voluntarily end all sponsorship deals that promote its brands on football shirts or on pitchside advertising hoardings.

Alexander said that by curbing advertising, it would “allow fans to watch their favourite teams without seeing any incentives to bet” and he called on football governing bodies and the gambling industry to follow GVC’s example.

Rob Wicks, Commercial Director of Aberdeen, believes that the comments will act as a line in the sand for the relationship between gambling and football, and he warned the SPFL and the SFA that sponsorship from bookmakers is likely to be phased out in much the same way that tobacco advertising was in the early 2000s.

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“I think this very much could be a watershed moment for gambling sponsorship in football,” Wicks said.

“It was quite a surprising announcement, it’s almost like turkeys voting for Christmas.

“I would view this as a positive step forward in many ways though from a societal perspective, and hopefully start of a self-policing approach from some of the brands.

“Having been involved in the sports sponsorship industry for a while and having seen the extensive regulations that have come to the tobacco sector, I’ve always felt it was only going to be a matter of time before something had to give. In this instance, we have started to see the industry itself taking a more pro-active approach.

“The reality is, the longer that it is left, it is going to go the same way as tobacco. If self-policing doesn’t come in and restrictions aren’t put in place by the sector itself or by football itself, then government and wider authorities will step in.

“For the chief executive of one of the biggest brands like Ladbrokes, a huge supporter and proponent of sponsorship, to come out and make the statement he has today, it is very bold and very commendable.

“It was only going to be a matter of time, if the industry hadn’t taken this stance, then somebody was going to force their hand.”

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As well as sponsoring the three major competitions in Scotland, gambling firms are the main shirt sponsors for Premiership sides Celtic, Hibernian, Motherwell and Rangers.

Aberdeen have no commercial association with any bookmaker after the club took a conscious decision not to on the grounds of social responsibility. For Wicks, another benefit of their stance has been that they won’t have a huge financial black-hole to fill once gambling firms pull their investment in the Scottish game.

All three main sponsorship deals are due to expire next summer, and Wicks has warned the SPFL and the SFA that they will have to come up with more creative ways to sell Scottish football in order to compensate of the subsequent shortfall in revenue.

“We [at Aberdeen] feel that those aren’t the right sort of brands to be associated with the game,” he said.

“We put enough pressure on fans as it is in a variety of ways, and to add gambling to that mix would not be the right thing, so we’ve made a conscious decision to not engage with a gambling brand for shirt sponsorship or the advertising we sell.

“The real challenge is going to come for the broader national game in Scotland, because all three of the national competitions have got major sponsorship from gambling brands, and that’s going to end up putting a great deal of pressure on the rest of the sponsorship industry.

“Were gambling brands to take a big step away from football, as I think they will, that is going to put more and more pressure on the sponsorship market.

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“I think it puts a lot of pressure on the governing bodies, because the game in Scotland can sometimes be a tough sell for anybody, and if you were to take out some of the top players then the challenge only gets tougher.

“The onus is on the governing bodies to find more inventive ways of selling the rights. We’ve already seen the pressures that are coming from a changing broadcast market, and the strength of the rights deals they are doing is not what we would like to see, and this is only going to add to the commercial challenges.

“At Aberdeen, having taken the stance that we have, we don’t have that dependence, and we don’t have to worry that down the line we are going to have a big hole to fill. It’s a blessing in disguise.

“But I don’t see it as an easy road ahead for those who are closely associated with these brands.

“The reality is that at least 50% of shirt sponsorships across Scotland and the top two leagues in England are from the gambling industry, so if you put that together, that’s millions of pounds that will have to be found.”

A spokesman for GVC told HeraldSport that no final decision had yet been made on the prospect of renewing their sponsorship of the SPFL once the current deal expires next summer, however, while naming rights will remain unchanged for the remainder of the contract, GVC will now be using all the perimeter board rights at every game that comes with the sponsorship to promote ‘non-branded responsible gaming messaging’.

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HeraldSport understands that the SPFL are unconcerned about the possibility of their contract with Ladbrokes ending early and welcome the possibility of a message of responsible gambling being promoted at matches.

A spokesman for sponsors of the League Cup, Betfred, said: “For a number of years now we have supported changes to TV advertising especially around football. Responsible gambling is at the heart of our business. We are proud to sponsor the Betfred Cup and support Scottish football. Any changes would be discussed internally, with the Scottish Football League and with the rest of the gambling industry”.

A spokesman for William Hill, sponsors of the Scottish Cup, said they will be using a portion of their LED signage during the Scottish Cup Final to promote their ‘Nobody Harmed’ responsible gambling messaging.