Aston Villa has announced a new multi-year partnership with the UK’s leading online car retailer, Cazoo, who will become the club’s principal partner for the 2020-2021 season.
Cazoo are the fastest-growing digital business and are pioneering the shift to online car buying in the UK since its launch last year. Their branding will feature on the playing kits and training wear of all club sides from the men’s first team down to the youngest academy age groups, including all Aston Villa Women sides, as their first team embark on a historic first season in the Women’s Super League.
For the first time in years, the club’s principal partner branding will also feature on all junior kits to be sold, which means that Villa’s younger fans will now be able to purchase and wear the same shirts as their heroes.
Since 2006, Villa have endorsed gambling companies from most recently W88 to 32Red who was the club’s first betting partner. In fact, Villa has branded replica shirts with betting logos in 11 of their last 14 seasons which permitted junior fans from wearing identical replicas, but next year Cazoo will break the mould.
The partnership will commence at the start next season and will also see Cazoo branding featured throughout Villa Park and on official club merchandise.
Villa’s Chief Commercial Officer, Nicola Ibbetson said: “We are immensely proud to have partnered with one of the fastest-growing businesses in the UK.
“Cazoo’s commitment to a partnership with Aston Villa provides both parties with an opportunity to work together for many years to come.
“Alongside several planned activations and fan engagement activities, all generations of Villa fans will be able to wear replica shirts that faithfully resemble those of their on-pitch heroes with the Cazoo branding appearing on all replica kit.”
Alex Chesterman OBE
Founder & CEO of Cazoo, Alex Chesterman added: “We’re delighted to be partnering with Aston Villa and supporting the Club’s men’s and women’s sides as well as their academy and charitable efforts.
“We are looking forward to next season and working closely with the Club as we make Cazoo a household name by reinventing the used car buying experience and providing the best selection, value, quality and convenience for UK car buyers.”
Most Villa fans were surprised and slightly pessimistic about the club’s new deal with the online car selling company with images and speculation circling on social media about SportPesa’s reported interest in sponsoring Villa from next season. But Cazoo will be the ones endorsed on shirts and at Villa Park, and despite their relatively new inception, owner Chesterman has big plans for the future.
The 50-year-old entrepreneur has a bachelor of science degree in economics from University College London and has some serious business acumen having sold his ScreenSelect business (later LoveFilm) to Amazon for £200 million.
More recently, in 2007 he founded Zoopla, the housing and property website which was sold in 2018 for £2.2bn to a US private equity group. He served as a chief executive officer until the end of that year when he stepped down but he remains on the board.
In December 2018 Chesterman announced a funding round of over £30m for his next venture, Cazoo which aimed at transforming the used car market, and to this day has raised over a reported £180m.
As well as serving as CEO of Zoopla, Chesterman is an active investor; he has investments in sports e-commerce site SportsPursuit and student booking site Uniplaces. In June 2015 Chesterman invested in Farmdrop, a service that lets people buy food directly from farmers.
He was also listed as one of the top ten ‘coolest tech investors in the UK’ according to Business Insider following his backing of digital startups Graze, Secret Escapes, CarWow and Swoon, earning OBE for services to digital entrepreneurship in 2016.
Why Villa should be proud of the move
Cazoo’s new partnership with Villa on the face of things seems ordinary and unimaginative but in fact, it promises to be an interesting relationship backed by Chesterman’s ingenuity and big plans for his rapidly growing business.
For Villa, the deal may not be as lucrative had they partnered with another betting firm, but the social cost of doing so outweighs the financial gain of a deal so often struck in English football.
Half of the Premier League’s club shirts this season were emblazoned with a gambling company’s logo which has reignited fresh concerns about the normalisation of betting amongst not only society but young football fans also.
Premier League clubs earned around £350m from shirt sponsorship deals this season – a record from a rise of more than 10% compared to £315m last season. Another record high this season was the number of clubs supporting gambling brands, with ten teams wearing logos from an industry that’s also taken a hold of Championship clubs.
17 out of 24 Championship club shirts included a betting logo this season, meaning 27 of England’s top 44 clubs sold and wore shirts that included betting sponsorships despite growing concerns among MPs and Ladbrokes-owned GVC who’ve agreed to not sponsor football club merchandise.
Former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson claimed the gambling industry is not doing enough to promote responsible betting.
“Less than a year ago, we were told by the gambling industry that they are committed to reducing the amount of advertising in football,” Watson claimed.
“We were told that we are facing a ‘watershed moment’ in which they would strive to provide an ever safer gambling environment.
“These are their words, not mine. But it is impossible to take these words in good faith when we are actually seeing an increase in gambling advertising around matches.
“The time for warm words is over. Either the industry is going to act in good faith, or we will need stricter regulation of gambling advertising – starting with a ban on football shirt sponsorship.”
None of the Premier League’s ‘top-six’ wore a gambling sponsor this season, meaning the industry accounted for the vast majority of other clubs in the league with Betway the biggest contributor through their £10m deal with West Ham.
Making a change
Recovering gambling addict James Grimes led a charity walk from Manchester City to Manchester United via six clubs who represent gambling companies on their shirts. Last year’s event raised money for Gambling With Lives – a charity set up by Charles Ritchie after his son Jack took his own life following a betting addiction.
The Big Step event was organised after studies released in 2019 warned of warned “dire consequences” due to the gambling industries prominence in football. More worryingly, research has exposed links between addictive gambling and suicide.
Grimes said: “Given gambling companies have accepted the principle of not showing TV ads during football matches because they are visible to children, it is completely unjustifiable for the pre-watershed ban to not extend to shirt sponsorship and pitch perimeter advertising as well.”
The Premier League have however announced they will resist any moves to ban clubs from having their shirts sponsored by betting companies.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters responded to concerns about football’s ‘gamblification’ which has for a long time only served to increase betting problems and addictions.
“Sport and gambling have a long association,” Masters said.
“We’re certainly not sniffy about it; it’s up to our clubs whether they want to have their own gambling relationships.”
Masters also hinted that the 2005 Gambling Act will also be reviewed.
“We’ll be welcome participants in that, I think this area does need stronger governance, particularly to protect the vulnerable.
“I don’t think the answer coming out at the end of it should be that football clubs shouldn’t have shirts sponsored by gambling companies, but we will certainly cooperate with the review.”
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) June 29, 2020
Taking hold of football
GVC Holdings has called for a ban on betting firms sponsoring football clubs.
“There has been far too much perimeter adverts, TV adverts, bookmakers splashed across football jerseys,” said Chief Executive Kenny Alexander.
His comments resonate with what we already perceive as gambling’s grip on football, including club owners and fans. Players, however, were rarely the focus of betting companies until January of this year.
Villa’s former betting partner 32Red currently sponsors four Championship clubs including Derby County who are captained by record England goalscorer Wayne Rooney.
His January move to Pride Park has been somewhat overshadowed by the betting firm 32Red’s sponsorship of the deal. Rooney doesn’t wear number 7, number 9 or 10, but instead number 32.
Rooney himself revealed his problems with gambling following his lucrative move to Manchester United in 2004.
“I was a young lad who’d just come into a lot of money,” Rooney said.
“For an away game with Manchester United you stay in a hotel – and with England, you’re in a hotel for seven to 10 days. You get bored and do things to fill the time.
“At that time gambling was one of them. It was easy to place bets by phone. It didn’t feel like real money. It wasn’t like I had to go into a bookies and put bets where there are limits.
“Before you know it you’ve lost a good bit and you don’t realise the amount you’re putting on at the time. I won at the start and thought it was easy money. It sucks you in a bit more and I ended up losing, ended up down.”
His comments were taken from a promotional video released by Red32. How ironic.
The move has come under further scrutiny following Rooney’s admission that he, like many others in the UK, had been struggling with a gambling addiction. Recent research commissioned by GambleAware – a UK based gambling charity – also discovered more links between problem gamblers and suicide rates.
Betting addicts are six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or could be up to 15 times more likely to try and take their own life than the UK average. 19% of addicted gamblers considered suicide in the past 12 months compared to the general UK population at 4.1%. 4.7% had attempted suicide compared with the drastically lower figure of 0.6% across the wider population.
These shocking statistics and figures highlight the important role football clubs can play to align social responsibilities and the impact they can make across a wider community.
Gambling is a public health issue and by reducing gambling promotion and its prominence in football, harms and subsequent disorders can be decreased. Aston Villa are doing their bit in supporting their own and football fans across the UK.