Connor Southwell: BK8 saga shows the murky water of football sponsors

Behind the scenes from the BK8 main sponsorship announcement at Norwich City, Carrow Road.

Norwich City's partnership with BK8 has raised some serious questions. - Credit: Norwich City/Matthew Usher

Football sponsorships in the modern era are often a question of money over morals. 

That is something felt by Norwich City more pertinently because of the model they seek to deploy. As a self-financing club, every penny is pivotal to ensure the club keeps striding forward and can ultimately progress on the pitch. 

Gambling sponsors always raise plenty of debate and pose meaningful questions about the influence it can have over supporters who suffer from addiction. Campaigners claim 65 percent of the industry's profit arrives from problem gamblers. 

This is the fifth consecutive season that the club have been sponsored by a betting company after LeoVegas and Dafabet. BK8's involvement has raised deeper and more serious questions. 

As a club that present themselves to the wider football community as a 'family club' with morals and care for the region they champion, those are always much more significant questions placed at City's door. 

Norwich are seen as an alternative to the morally lost owners. There is accountability and an honesty that underpins everything the club try and do. 

Sadly, they have become the latest victim of a 'white label' betting firm. One that has no interest in the UK market but whose finances football clubs so heavily rely upon. Because the deals are so lucrative, the rest can often be lost behind the pound signs.

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Advertising is banned in Asia for gambling products, so these companies sponsor Premier League clubs knowing their brand will be front and centre as they consume English football in their droves. 

Even the official club release from the club doesn't contain a quote from a figure of BK8. A report by the Athletic conducted in February found that very few of these companies have a presence in the UK. 

In that report, Alun Bowden, head of European markets at US research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming said: “What a lot of football fans won’t understand is how little interest most of these firms have in the UK market and in UK bettors. “It’s just about trying to get brand exposure in Asian markets where gambling advertising is banned or heavily restricted. It’s a game within a game, and you’re not playing.”

It's worth noting Norwich City aren't the first club to take a deal like this. Newcastle United are owned by Fun88, who have Instagram accounts similar to those uncovered by fans when the BK8 deal was announced by the club. 

Park the gambling for a second, female supporters are feeling incredibly let down by Norwich's involvement with BK8. 

Their social media channels, although run by third-party ownerships, contain soft pornography and videos of women being sexualised in the name of promoting the company. 

Some of that content included young women in handcuffs and performing sexualised tasks with the 'BK8' logo on shirts cut to expose their cleavage. 

And whilst not illegal, for a club that only in October 2020 signed up to the FA's Football Leadership Diversity Code to drive diversity and inclusion across English football, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and shows everybody across the game has more work to do in the fight for equality. 

Yet, despite their public commitment to equality, we understand the club recently decided to dismantle its new Equality Group. The view was that the new supporters' panel would negate the need for that particular group to continue. 

Behind the scenes from the BK8 main sponsorship announcement at Norwich City, Carrow Road.

The Asian betting company have replaced Dafabet as the principal sponsor at Norwich City. - Credit: Norwich City/Matthew Usher

The #HerGameToo initiative on Twitter that launched last month was a key moment in the fight against sexism in our game, a recent Canaries Trust study showed that one in five female supporters have experienced sexist abuse attending a football match. 

Norwich City's women side will feel uncomfortable adorning the logo of BK8 on their shirts, irrespective of the measures that have been taken since the content was discovered by fans on Monday morning. 

Whether City align with their views or not, they are still associated with them. That should be harmful enough. 

Questions will also be raised surrounding their due diligence. This stuff was either uncovered and ignored, or not spotted at all. Both pose serious questions and the club have committed to reviewing their due diligence processes. 

Female fans have every right to be disappointed at their club. BK8 has categorised them as sexual entities used to sell a product. 

One wonders how majority shareholder Delia Smith views the deal. Or business and project director Zoe Ward. 

On their official website, Norwich say they want to create a 'welcoming environment free of racist, homophobic or other discriminatory behaviours both on and off the pitch.' This deal flies in the face of that commitment. 

This won't have been the intention of those who work on the commercial side of the deal, but they will have exposed underage City fans to content they shouldn't be viewing. 

Yes, the club needs to be self-sustainable. Yes, they should seek to exercise each revenue stream to drum up cash for progress on the pitch. But they must also represent a community where women deserve to be equal. Where they are valued. Where they can attend a football match without fear of discrimination. 

Even though the club acted swiftly to urge their new partners to remove the Instagram account, there are still accounts claiming to belong to BK8 that exist with similar images and video. The same content is still available for consumption on LinkedIn and YouTube. 

Norwich aren't the club to fall victim to such a deal, but that itself highlights the need for the ongoing government review into betting sponsorship to be published and enacted. 

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport and Civil Society poses for a photo in the stands during day on

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, is overseeing a government review into sponsorships in football. - Credit: PA

The hope is that the club can educate its new partners on the values they hold and encourage change from within.

Whether you agree with betting or not is irrelevant. This is about fighting prehistoric views, irrespective of difference in culture. Beginning those conversations are pivotal to moving both society and our game forward.

A spokesperson for the club said: "Norwich City are aware of a series of marketing posts across the social media accounts of our new principal partners, BK8. 
    
"The club worked swiftly with BK8 to remove the posts following the announcement of the new partnership. These posts and marketing do not align with the wider Norwich City vision and values and we will be reviewing our due diligence process going forward."

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