MLS Teams Can Partner With Gambling Companies … sort of. It depends.

Written By Derek Helling on February 13, 2020
MLS gambling sponsorship ban Chicago Fire

Over the past year, Major League Soccer has sent its franchises conflicting messages on legal gambling. A new MLS gambling sponsorship ban is part of that.

MLS franchises like the Chicago Fire can partner with casinos and sportsbooks on certain conditions. Those have to do with the location of those companies and the parameters of those deals.

The details on the new MLS gambling sponsorship ban

Almost two years ago, MLS opened up one category of advertising for its clubs. That had to do with ads on clubs’ jerseys.

Prior to the change, the league forbade clubs from selling such ad space to companies that dealt in the alcohol or gambling industries. In October 2018, MLS lifted those restrictions.

There was somewhat of a catch at that time, however. MLS clubs couldn’t sell such space to any companies outside of Canada and the United States. There aren’t any MLS clubs in any other nations other than those two right now.

So since then, MLS clubs have been free to sell advertising on their jerseys to casinos and sportsbooks in Canada or the US. Any other kinds of sponsorships, like content presentation or signage around the stadiums, however, still could have run counter to league rules.

None of MLS’ clubs have taken advantage of that liberty so far. That may change in the future, but the landscape of how the clubs can market themselves is also constantly shifting.

One big change happened last week. It alters the situation regarding the extent MLS clubs can sell sponsorships again.

Another recent adjustment and twist to the rules for clubs

Last week, MLS launched a new beta program for its clubs. It opens the door to them selling sponsorships of many kinds outside of North America.

Within the parameters of the test run, there is no more restriction for clubs to Canada and the US only. European companies, for example, are now fair game.

MLS has revived its “sin bin” for this program, however. The program excludes gambling companies, just as its former restriction on Canadian and US partnerships did.

So now MLS clubs can sell sponsorships beyond North America within some limits. One of those limits is that they can’t partner with international casinos or sportsbooks.

That creates some gray areas for clubs, however. How MLS defines what is and isn’t an international company makes a huge difference.

Why MLS clubs may seek more clarity from the league

Several legal sportsbook brands in the United States are actually owned by parent companies overseas. This includes one of the most prominent names in US legal sports betting.

UK-based Flutter Entertainment owns FanDuel. Other sportsbook brands owned by European companies include Betfred and Unibet.

While these brands do business and are licensed here in the US, they could be ineligible for this program because their parent companies call Europe home. If MLS wants to give clubs more room to operate, however, it could allow them to partner with these companies because of their US operations.

Even within that context, however, there are further limitations. If MLS treats them as domestic companies, then they can only partner with clubs for jersey ads.

That’s perhaps the most valuable real estate, and such brands might not pony up the cash necessary to win that privilege if that’s all the value they get in return. So far, clubs have opted to avoid this industry altogether in their marketing.

That may change at some point, as may the rules on what kinds of deals clubs can enter into with gambling companies. It seems that on this matter, the only dependable thing is change.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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