A betting firm’s involvement in Wayne Rooney’s move to Derby County adds to the “ethical issue” football has with gambling, says football finance expert Dr Dan Plumley.
The Rams have said that, “on the back of” the former England captain joining, they have secured “a record-breaking sponsorship” deal with their shirt sponsor, online casino 32Red.
The 33-year-old, who is set to join the Rams in January, will also wear squad number 32 on the back of his shirt.
“There is a big moral issue with gambling at the minute,” said Plumley.
“This is no coincidence. And it is right to be pointed out.”
Plumley, a senior lecturer in sport business management at Sheffield Hallam University, told BBC Sport that football’s reliance on betting companies as sponsors is “one of the big issues” the game faces.
“The ethical issues, especially with the wider societal problems with gambling, has led to a lot of talk about it,” he said.
“What clubs will come back and say is that this is a business and they need a sponsor for that business.
“There are a lot of providers in the gambling market and, if they are the best sponsorship package on the table, is it the club’s responsibility to really turn that down?
“It is an issue that is on everyone’s agenda. People want to see money put back into players and the club, and this revenue needs to be generated.”
The general manager at 32Red, Neil Banbury, said the arrangement with Derby “shows a new model for football club sponsorship is possible”.
He also added that their involvement with the club includes investing in a community project that deals with mental heath in the area.
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Former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams has previously said such sponsorship deals should be stopped.
In a statement, the Gambling Commission said “sponsorship arrangements must be undertaken in a socially responsible manner”, with its rules adding that deals should not “be likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s” or “associated with youth culture”.
Derby are one of 16 clubs in England’s second division whose primary sponsor is a betting firm, 15 of which are displayed on the front of their shirts.
But to have part of a sponsor’s name so closely associated to one player – and one of such world renown – is unprecedented.
“It’s certainly unique,” said Plumley. “It’s something that fits with the main sponsor and Wayne Rooney.
“Already they have hashtags trending which link them.”
Rooney himself said the number he wears is “not a big deal” when asked about the sponsorship link at a news conference on Tuesday.
‘Crazy money in the Championship’
With reports that Rooney will earn between £80,000 and £100,000 a week, the sponsorship tie-up was key in bringing England and Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer back to the English game.
“We looked at the commercial opportunities this could create for us, and we realised this could be very smart business,” Derby County owner Mel Morris told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“So, in some ways, we’re seeing this as an opportunity to actually create money off the back of this deal, as opposed to net spend.”
Rooney’s entire wages will count towards the club’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) calculations despite him moving to Pride Park as a player-coach, as there is no 50% split on wages for such dual roles at that level – unlike in League One and League Two.
Plumley said Rooney’s wages would make the former Everton forward one of the biggest earners to ever play in the second tier.
“That would be very crazy money in the Championship if true,” he said. “You are also looking at one of the most talented players of a generation, a true legend of English football, and Derby have managed to get him in the Championship.
“It’s one of the biggest moves at that level. You can argue that this is a bit of a masterstroke.”
How can Derby afford to bring in Rooney?
Derby selling their Pride Park stadium home to owner Morris for £80m has also helped make the deal for Rooney possible.
The sale and lease back of the ground meant the club reported a pre-tax profit of £14.6m for the 2017-18 season, ensuring the club met the English Football League spending rules.
In the past week, they have gone on to break their transfer record on midfielder Krystian Bielik for about £10m and recruit Rooney – a five-time Premier League champion, who also collected Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League and Club World Cup winner’s medals with Manchester United.
“That stadium sale brought them a room with FFP,” said Plumley.
“To go from being really under the cosh, to selling the stadium, to breaking your transfer record and then having Wayne Rooney come in from January is a remarkable turnaround.”
While selling a stadium is “a one-time fix”, having Rooney at Derby’s disposal as they chase promotion to the Premier League is a “roll of the dice” worth more than £170m.
“You get to the Premier League and your financial troubles almost disappear overnight,” said Plumley.
“This is a gamble in that respect. Obviously Derby are looking at Wayne Rooney on the pitch first and foremost and this is absolutely about another tilt at promotion.”