Why did Rio Ferdinand’s Casino Floor deal cause problems?
Rio Ferdinand has had a career at the highest level. He’s been capped by England 88 times, won 16 trophies, countless individual recognition and is widely considered one of the best defenders the country has ever produced. But it was his endorsement as brand ambassador at Casino Floor that got everyone talking. Should a high profile footballer be representing a gambling site?
Deal or no deal?
One aspect to consider is that the gambling business is already well represented in English football. Premier League teams Stoke, Aston Villa and Burnley have gambling companies as their main sponsor, while all Premier League clubs have their own official betting sponsor. Football is so popular that even outside of the Premier League, the gambling industry is well represented. After all, the 72 teams in the Football League play in divisions sponsored by Sky Bet.
Jamie Rainbow, News and Website Editor at highly regarded football magazine World Soccer, was unimpressed by the outcry. “Bearing in mind football is largely funded by betting companies I find it quite surprising. There are gambling companies on shirts and all around the stadiums and unless the money comes from overseas, plenty of money going into football is from gambling. I find the reaction quite hypocritical.”
Gambling sites are no strangers to using sporting stars, especially those in football. Ladbrokes uses former footballer and manager Chris “unbelievable Jeff” Kamara, who co-presents Goals on Sunday. Former Liverpool player Mark Lawrenson can be seen on a toilet seat in BetVictor adverts. Fomer England hero Michael Owen also represents BetVictor, as well as Colussus Bets. Before its recent problems, 666Bet was promoted by former West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, while his son and Sky Sports regular Jamie is currently associated with Skybet.
What those campaigns all have in common is that the footballers have finished their playing career. One of the problems Ferdinand has is that while he has played little this season and is nearing the end of his career, he is still a current player on £80,000 a week wages. One of the more striking comments on Twitter read: “Haven’t enough money without promoting gambling? Grim.”
His name is Rio
The 36 year old is no stranger to off the field interests. He has created a record label, hosted Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups, financed a film, filmed a documentary aiming to draw youngsters away from crime, and helped launch a digital magazine. He also launched The Rio Ferdinand Foundation in 2009 to help underprivileged children from poorer areas.
Managing director of CasinoFloor.com, Jack Mizel said when Rio was hired that the deal would “enable the brand to reach out to people on a personal level”, and that “Rio’s quality, class, experience and winning attitude” would engage people. The Casino Floor website included football themed slogans such as “There’s no half time in life. You play to win” and “Rio’s had a good week of wins, have you?”
Multi-award winning creative talent Neil Dawson, a partner at Dawson Pickering, thought Rio’s endorsement wasn’t sufficiently thought out. “It wasn’t really an idea. He’s a sportsman and has a lot of followers. There wasn’t much more to it than that. It was playing on his fame and celebrity and wondering how they could get involved. They could have put any footballer in there.”
Not so Rio Grande?
When Ferdinand tweeted to his 6.14m followers to “Play at my favourite @CasinoFloorUK tonight & have 55 free spins on me”, followed up with a link to the betting site, he was looking to use his reputation to encourage his online followers.
One of the main problems was that gambling sites have an 18 restriction, while the father of three Ferdinand has followers on Twitter that will be as young as 13. By sending the link without an advisory warning, Ferdinand was accused of being irresponsible and not considering his influence on his younger fans.
A spokesman for the Gambling Commission said that there are heavy restrictions on encouraging gambling to those under age. “Strict rules are in place to ensure that gambling products are advertised in a socially responsible way, such as not appealing directly to people under the age of 18. The rules governing the advertising of gambling are maintained by the Committees of Advertising Practice and applied by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
Dawson thought the move was “simply slapdash” and badly planned. “It looked pretty irresponsible and not well thought through,” he explained. “By promoting the site to under age and hugely impressionable followers I can understand why some people got the hump.”
Feeling lucky, punk?
The astronomical rise in footballer’s wages and the perception of those on the field as sporting mercenaries has not helped Ferdinand’s cause either. While footballers advertise everything from crisps, chocolate and energy drinks to shampoo, skincare and mobile phones, often in gloriously naff adverts, there is no outrage.
The drama within the game means that brands are keen to get involved with such high profile and talented sportsmen. We all know about the phenomenon that is David Beckham, and brands like Armani, H&M and Haig whisky have made lucrative use of his style and classy image.
Eric Cantona may no longer be highly involved in football but his iconic status within the game has lasted since his sudden retirement in 1997. French brands such as Kroenenubug and Eurostar have used Cantona’s French individuality, while compatriot Thierry Henry lent his sophisticated ‘va va voom’ flair to Renault.
Match of the Day presenter and former England marksman Gary Lineker has shrewdly used his nice guy image to promote Walkers Crisps for 20 years. “Gary Lineker was the cleanest footballer we’ve ever produced, and here he was behaving like a thief stealing crisps,” said Dawson, referencing the first advert in 1995. “It was incredible that the most decent and well behaved player could act in such a different way. That’s a brand idea.”
It’s just not cricket
But is the fact that Ferdinand is a footballer a factor in all this?
When 14-time Grand Slam winner, and current French Open champion, Rafael Nadal signed up to Poker Stars last year there was no backlash against the Spaniard. Legendary Australian cricketer Shane Warne (annoyingly lethal in the Ashes) was a representative of 888poker in the later part of his career, with his original two year deal extended to eight. Both sportsmen have combined playing tournament poker with busy professional schedules.
Rainbow does not see how football should be different to any other sport. “There should be the same objection to footballers as any sportsman doing it. There is this idea that footballers are role models. It’s not one I buy into. It is no different to any sport.”
Though tempting to lump all forms of gambling together, it’s vital to understand that attitudes towards sports betting and poker are different to those towards casino gambling. Helped by some light hearted and funny advertisements, sports betting is seen as fun, exciting and social. Predicting which way the football is going to go is pub talk, and placing a ‘cheeky punt’ is synonymous with the average Joe.
Poker, meanwhile, though not a sport, is equally social. With the advent of poker celebrities such as Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Britain’s Victoria Coren, it’s becoming ingrained in popular culture. And crucially, like sports betting, there’s a clear strategic element, and the chance to grind out profits if you’re good enough.
There’s more of a social stigma attached to casino gambling. It’s seen as a more insular, degenerate activity. The image of a bleary eyed man spending his last penny on a slot machine is far more evocative than a group of friends piling into Ladbrokes for a pre-match punt.
What the sporting endorsements all have in common is that they are on the side of sporting betting. Rio is very much on his own with his online casino endorsement. Amid the huge backlash was this tweet. “You have responsibilities as a role model. Gambling rips families apart.”
Chris Kamara, Michael Owen or any of the others previously mentioned have ever been accused of being irresponsible. The casino side of gambling clearly needs to consider the way it advertises.
To infinity and beyond
As boys, most of us dreamt of being footballers. That was even after we kept controlling the ball further than we could kick it. That air shot that we swear was just a clever dummy. That spectacular bicycle kick winner that instead flew miles over the fence. Or looking back, maybe those last bits were just me.
Quite simply, football really is the place to be. It’s the party we all talk about and want to be invited to. It is no surprise then, that so many major industries advertising within the sport have seen huge benefits. As sports gambling and poker advertising have shown, well organised and carefully thought out campaigns within football can change the way gambling is perceived.
Betting in a casino can just be as much fun as on sporting events, there’s no reason why you can’t go with friends and you don’t have to bet huge amounts. It is up to the casino companies to find a way that responsibly gets this message across.