Photo by: ElectricFootball / CC BY-SA 4.0

As an avid United supporter and football fan, chances are that at some point you’ve engaged in an online football-related activity. Whether that’s placing a bet online, playing a game of fantasy football, or even trying out a football-themed online slots game, the sport has had a considerable influence on the iGaming industry – and vice versa.

Football has become a hugely profitable industry in its own right, so the partnerships with iGaming brands that most Premier League clubs now enjoy are mutually beneficial. Similarly, football is a major vertical in the iGaming industry, pulling in eye-watering revenue figures every year as fans across the UK support their favourite teams with online bets.

Like many of the other mainstream sports found on British soil (horse racing, golf, rugby, etc), football and betting have been closely linked since the process of sports betting was fully legalised. Therefore, it’s only natural that in this modern, digital era that same relationship plays out online.

Decades of interaction

The football and sports betting industries have interacted with each other for decades, ever since the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960. Just a few months after the act was formally passed, tens of thousands of bookmakers appeared on the UK’s high streets, accepting bets on sports like football, horse and greyhound racing.

In addition to this, the sport of football was also the focus of the burgeoning pools industry, established by the likes of Littlewoods and Vernons. A sort of precursor to fantasy football games, fans who played the pools would predict the outcome of matches (or situations within a match) in an effort to win cash prizes.

With the coming of the 21st century, real-money gaming and betting practices in the UK experienced a radical shift, moving from the local high street to the world wide web. The iGaming industry emerged, providing new opportunities for football fans to both place bets online and interact more fully with their favourite sport.

The numbers in brief

Recent statistics show that in the UK, sports betting pulls in revenues of over £13.5 billion for bookmakers (both online and brick and mortar), with estimated year-on-year growth of approximately £1 billion. That may seem like an eye-watering sum, but in reality it’s just a fraction of the global revenues generated by sports betting, which at last count reached over £600 billion.

Even though football was a hugely popular sports betting vertical, in the off-line world, it was overtaken by horse racing. However, with the emergence of digital technologies, and the introduction of measures like in-play betting in football markets, football has overtaken the “Sport of Kings” as the most popular vertical. At the end of 2016, total revenue generated from online football wagers came to £580.5 million – around 37% of the overall betting market that year – with horse racing coming in second, at £345.75 million total revenue.

Football and iGaming

Across the globe, British football (or soccer, as it’s known in the U.S) and premiership teams are loved by people from all walks of life. So, there’s a huge online audience for football-related games and activities, hence why there are so many football-themed slots and fantasy football games available to play online. Just check out any updated list of the best-rated online casinos, and you’ll find a wide selection of football-themed slots available on desktop and mobile. United themselves feature heavily as one of the key teams in the Inspired Gaming slot, Football Favourites.

Meanwhile, fantasy football has grown and evolved so much that it now features the English Premier League, with major broadsheets and tabloids publishing tips, picks and predictions for upcoming matches. Millions of football fans currently participate in online leagues, with 6 million active in the Fantasy Premier League alone.

Sponsorships and endorsements

 The sport of football doesn’t just inspire iGaming brands. The industry that has built up around it is also something that these platforms and operators are keen to be a part of. In the top two divisions in the UK, almost 60% of the active clubs receive some sponsorship from iGaming companies. That’s a total of 10 playing in the Premier League and 17 out of the 24 Championship teams.

Although they may draw criticism, there’s no doubt that these high-profile partnerships are pouring enormous resources into the British football industry. In 2019, Premier League clubs have earned over £349 million from shirt sponsorship deals alone – a record amount that is also a 10% increase on the amount earned last year. Given all the associated costs that go into running a successful top-level club, these deals – for the moment at least – remain a necessity.