Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney's surprise return to English football has been criticised for being bankrolled by bookmaker 32Red, via a new sponsorship deal and marketing execution.
England's top goalscorer, now 33, served a one year stint in the MLS with DC United. This week he announced he will join Championship side Derby County in January, where he will adopt the 32 shirt in tribute to the club's lead sponsor, 32Red.
The buzzworthy signing of the striker has been subsidised by 32Red via a record-breaking sponsorship deal. Rooney will be paid five times the average wage in England's second tier, at £90,000 a week. The player/coach is expected to bring a new level of attention to the sponsor. Immediately the hashtag #WR32 trended, fuelled by the surprising nature of Rooney's US exodus.
Mel Morris, Derby Country owner, said: "The commercial opportunities this creates are widespread and significant... on the back of Wayne joining the club, we have just been offered a record-breaking sponsorship deal with our principal shirt sponsor, 32Red.”
With gambling on football worth an estimated £1.4bn a year in the UK, the deal is a mere drop in the ocean. But the nature of the integration between the bookmaker and England's top-scoring striker was criticised by some days after gambling addiction awareness slogan 'When The Fun Stops Stop' was found not to dissuade gamblers.
Richard Gillis, journalist, marketer and owner of Unofficial Partner, told The Drum: "I’m not sure that gambling addiction is as funny as marketing people seem to think. And in terms of the sophistication of their marketing messages, this lot make Paddy Power sound like Stephen Fry.
"There’s two things happening in the betting market: tightening advertising legislation in the UK and the opening up of sports betting in America. So, it’s all about playing nice with voluntary advertising codes on one hand and making as much noise as possible on the other."
Football sponsorships help online bookmakers to differentiate themselves in the real world and build trust with punters. He concluded: "The normalisation of gambling might be football's defining marketing legacy of the last twenty years."
Richard Caborn, a former government minister who was a key figure in the 2005 Gambling Act, told The Telegraph: "It's not very clever this – it all seems a bit crass."
He said that Rooney, as a father, should know his close association with the bookmaker is "not the brightest" move and hinted that it sets a bad example for young people who look up to him. "The gambling companies need to be doing themselves favours at the moment, but this is not going to go down well with football authorities or the government."
One tweet shows just how much brand exposure 32Red expects from the deal upon Rooney's move in January 2020.
But the cash injection raises questions of whether the club can meet the EFL's financial fair play rules. BBC Sport reporter Andrew Aloia wrote that the Ex-England captain's deal raises questions about "football's links to gambling."
Football finance expert Dr Dan Plumley, told Aloia: "There is a big moral issue with gambling at the minute... the ethical issues, especially with the wider societal problems with gambling, has led to a lot of talk about it."
Just weeks ago Paddy Power 'unsponsored' Brighton, Huddersfield and Motherwell to ironically shine a spotlight on the intrusive nature of gambling in the sport.
Earlier this year, The Drum tried to engage every Premier League side about the gambling problem. Brighton & Hove Albion, which doesn’t have any betting partnerships, was the only eager respondent.
In the 19/20 season, only three Premier League sides have evaded adopting a bookmaker sponsor.