Winning Post: Bishop’s crusade invites an unwarranted examination

By | April 19, 2021

Despite UK gambling being dragged through the political storms of a torrid March fall-out. Regulus Partners states the House of Lords should save itself from an unwarranted debate on which government department takes reign of gambling’s regulatory oversight.  

This week, members of the House of Lords will attempt to revive the idea that gambling policy should be the responsibility of the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The debate (secured by the Bishop of St Albans) will likely consist of claims about the widespread and growing harms caused by gambling and the idea that a ‘public health crisis‘ has developed under the watch of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

It is questionable whether the DHSC – which has a few more important matters to deal with right now – would welcome the addition of such a highly charged brief. Indeed, when questioned by a House of Lords Select Committee in 2019, the deputy director for healthy behaviours, Tim Baxter answered, “I do not think we need to change”, citing the close working between his department and the DCMS. The committee agreed, stating in its final report that “despite the symbolic value of a transfer of primary responsibility for gambling from DCMS to DHSC, there would not be any practical benefit from such a transfer, and there might be disadvantages. DCMS should continue to be the department with primary responsibility.”

The Bishop of St Albans was a member of that committee and has called for its recommendations to be implemented without delay. His return to the subject of DHSC responsibility next week may therefore invite accusations of hypocrisy.

While demands for transfer of ministerial responsibility are typically couched in (generally misleading) claims about the prevalence and growth trajectory of gambling harms, the real aim here is the suppression of gambling as a legitimate activity for adult consumers.

This is a slippery slope indeed – the promotion of an ideology that could conceivably place pubs, restaurants and online retailers under the aegis of Health. If this sounds paranoid, it is worth reflecting on the fact that Public Health England last year claimed (in making the case against gambling) that alcohol policy rests with the DHSC. This is untrue – alcohol remains the responsibility of the Home Office – but the Freudian slip likely reveals intent.

International: sports rights – time is ticking for sport to remain relevant

Spanish cycling tour, La Vuelta, launched its own channel on gaming streaming platform Twitch, the coverage will include news and analysis from different specialists. The Amazon owned platform is associated more with esports than ‘real’ sports, but some sports rights holders (including La Liga which achieved 1 million views for its coverage of the Basque Derby last week), have joined, hoping to cross-sell sports content to the enviable (to most sports) 140 million active (predominantly young) monthly user base.

Similarly, relative newcomers to the social media space, TikTok (c. 700m monthly active users), has joined the sports streaming arena, with the rights to the International Women’s Tennis team competition, the Billie Jean King Cup. The 58-yearold tournament is hoping to capture the imaginations of a younger set of potential tennis fans in showing content via this platform which enjoys a majority young audience (according to Statista 62% of users in the US are aged between 10 and 29).

Showing sport to a different demographic clearly increases its chances of remaining relevant as a spectator product in years to come. However, it is not just the ‘where’ of the next generation consume entertainment, it is also the ‘how’ which needs to be addressed. The requirements have changed.

Many sports (eg. Baseball, cricket) are considered too ‘low-octane’ to keep a younger audience entertained – and look positively Victorian by comparison to a League of Legends, Dota 2 or Counter-Strike (the big three esports) final – where a best of five series takes place over a matter of hours rather than weeks.

These issues are not new, but while viable long-term solutions have not yet been solidified, they are starting to emerge. NFL have previously partnered with influencers on Twitch to have ‘watch-a-long’ games with extremely popular streamers – although from a revenue generation and broadcast rights perspective, the model leaves a lot to be desired, in our view.

The streamers are required to hide their face camera during ad-breaks, and original broadcast adverts are shown (so sponsorship value is not diminished, but perhaps enhanced) – but paying an upfront fee to a streamer to watch a sports game (likely not cheap) adds a potential extra layer of complexity when targeting a market that is fast diminishing. Illegal streaming of global sports remains an issue, and, in our view, younger consumers (who consume content in a predominantly digital manner) are the most likely to indulge in illegal streams – thus having them watch Twitch streamers in a legal manner, with potential monetization options is an overall positive, but marks a potential stark consumer behaviour switch.

Gaming streamers and social media influencers also have a very different style to sports pundits, with liking one almost immediately qualifying as dislike for the other. These patterns of play and presentation are so distant from traditional sports that adopting them would no doubt cause outrage, especially among the over 40s who remain critical to existing engagement and revenue models. Some level of bifurcation might be necessary, but this is also highly complicated to deliver and undermines the community spirit that sport is so good at fostering among its fanbases. How this gets fixed is a much bigger question than streaming, in our view, and one in which betting might have a positive engagement role to play.

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Featured article edited by SBC from ‘Winning Post’ Sunday 18 April 2021 (click on the below logo to access a full unedited version)