On 15th June 2023 Watford announced a new main shirt sponsor, with gambling business MrQ, set to be their main front-of-shirt sponsor for the “2023/24 season and beyond”. It was announced on the official Watford website as being a new “long-term partnership”, although no specifics were given about just how long-term that would be.
The official site went on to explain that the new “multi-year agreement represents a record-breaking deal for an EFL club”. In addition, MrQ is an independent business that has its HQ in St Albans, around 10 miles north of Watford. A local business offering a record amount of money is surely something that would please most fans but the deal was not exactly universally welcomed.
Issue with Gambling Firms and Sponsorship
There has long been controversy over the links between gambling firms and football clubs. With many footballers suffering from addiction to betting and further concerns about how such promotion affects (if not directly targets) children, it is easy to understand why. The Hornets had previously been sponsored by another betting firm, Stake. The company, who also sponsor Everton, offer sports betting, as well as casino games, and sponsored Watford in 2021/22 and 2022/23.
Many fans were unhappy with the previous sponsorship deal and made that known to the club. As such, they were dismayed when they felt they had been ignored and Watford had simply replaced one betting company with another. Children’s shirts cannot show gambling sponsors but kids do, of course, see their heroes playing with such brands emblazoned on their kit.
However, there are further issues when it comes to such sponsors concerning those for whom gambling is either abhorrent or even against their religion. Watford – like most clubs in truth – has a diverse fanbase and many felt they could not support the side the way they wanted to buy wearing the shirt when it had the name of a gambling business on it.
New Watford Shirt Available Without MrQ Logo
The club has listened to fans, thankfully, and the new shirt for 2023/24 will be available without the gambling logo in all adult and child sizes and styles. This is a great move and is inclusive, allowing all fans to get behind the club irrespective of their religious or ethical beliefs.
Hi Adam, 2023/24 adult and junior replica kits will be available for purchase without the front-of-shirt partner logo.
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) June 15, 2023
From the sponsor’s point of view they may gain a tiny degree less exposure but what matters most is the shirts worn by the players and broadcast around the country and indeed the world. In fact, the extra publicity generated by offering unbranded shirts may even offset any loss. All in all this very much looks like a win-win situation, with many fans simply delighted that they can wear a stylish, plain, rather old-school shirt. In addition, the club still gets an excellent deal commercially, whilst also supporting a local business. All Watford need to do now is start winning on the pitch!
Is There a Ban on Gambling Sponsors?
Having been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2021/22 season and finished a disappointing 11th in the Championship the following year, the aim for Watford is to get back into the top flight as soon as possible. However, if they do that, what would happen about their supposedly long-term deal with MrQ?
In April 2023, the Premier League’s clubs voluntarily decided to remove gambling sponsorship from the front of the playing kits. However, this rather wishy-washy measure was, we feel, taken to try and stave off any stricter regulation from the government. We say it is wishy-washy for a number of reasons.
First, and perhaps understandably, it is a delayed measure. This makes sense, because many clubs have existing deals in place and so by not implementing the “ban” straight away, clubs have time to find a new sponsor and end any existing arrangements. However, was a delay until August 2026 really necessary?
Second, the agreement only applies to the main front-of-shirt matchday sponsor. So gambling sponsors and their logos will still be allowed on training kits, shirt sleeves, matchday billboards and as “official betting partners”. Last, this only applies in the Premier League, so Football League clubs, including Watford – for now at least – will still be permitted to work with gambling firms in whatever manner they wish. Oh, and the entire Football League itself will continue to be sponsored by a major bookmaker!
Huddersfield’s Save Our Shirt Campaign
Returning to the Hornets and their deal with MrQ, we believe this is the first time a club has offered their main adult kit in a sponsored and unsponsored form. Kids’ kits have long been made without gambling or alcohol sponsors but as far as we are aware this is the first time it has been an option for adult shirts.
However, it is not the first time a club has been sponsored by a betting site and yet has produced a plain, unbranded kit. Back in 2019/20, Paddy Power announced that they would be sponsoring Huddersfield and produced a horrible kit with a huge “Paddy Power” sash taking up most of it. Fans were outraged and many felt that gambling sponsorship really was going too far.
Of course, the Irish bookie are now quite well known for their publicity stunts and this proved to be another. Not long after the initial advert was released, they then made it clear that they would be “Unsponsoring” the historic club and that Huddersfield would be playing in an old-fashioned, clean and rather fetching, kit without any sponsorship at all. This was part of their “Save Our Shirt” campaign, calling for brands to “give something back to the fans” by removing their names and logos from shirts. Note that this was not solely about gambling sponsorship, but rather a return to the “good old days” of unbranded shirts.