Belgium’s Royal Antwerp scores BetFirst deal despite proposed ad ban

| By Robert Fletcher
Online sports betting operator betFIRST has agreed a new sponsorship deal with Belgian First Division A football club Royal Antwerp, despite the country’s government having recently proposed a blanket ban on gambling advertising.
Belgian Flag

The five-year deal will come into effect from the 2022-23 season, which kicks off this month.

BetFirst will serve as the main front-of-shirt-sponsor for Royal Antwerp, while the operator will also support the club with its social and local community initiatives.

“We are extremely proud to have achieved one of the biggest sponsorship deals in the club’s history with BetFirst,” Royal Antwerp chief operations officer Dirk Van Oekelen said. “We are excited to introduce our Red and White community to the different aspects of this unique partnership.”

BetFirst chief marketing officer Timothy Mastelinck added: “We think it is only logical to invest in sport and its role in society, so that we all contribute to qualitative and honest sports competitions. The choice for RAFC was logical: there was an immediate click from the first moment. 

“Just like us, the club wants to take its social responsibility and do more than what is strictly expected of it. We are therefore happy to contribute as a founding partner to the community activities of the club.”

The deal comes after Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne in May announced proposals for an outright ban on all forms of gambling advertising in the country.

The ban would apply to advertisements for all games of chance currently available legally in Belgium across online and land-based facilities, with the exception of the country’s National Lottery.

The proposal was met with heavy criticism from local operator association Bago, which said the ban would not benefit the consumer and instead make it more difficult for players to distinguish between legal and illegal operators.

Referencing the proposed ban, Mastelinck said the new sponsor deal was completed before the Minister announced details of the plan. 

“The deal came after extensive consultation and research into our collaboration,” Mastelinck said. “In 2011, it was decided to regulate the gaming market, with a clear duty of care towards the consumer. This cooperation model with social projects is the way to sustainable long-term sponsoring. 

“A total ban on this kind of sponsorship would be detrimental to football, but also many other sports. In Italy, the illegal gambling sector has grown by as much as 50% since a total ban was introduced in 2019. In illegality, unfortunately, there is no protection for problem gamblers. 

“A ban will probably make the problem bigger instead of smaller.”

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