During a Q&A at
general meeting in early January, Everton chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale had
offered the clearest indication of what was to come with SportPesa, Everton’s official
Asked whether the association with the gambling firm was troubling for a club that rightly
places great stock on its successful mental health and community initiatives, Barrett-Baxendale
said that “moving forward, in an ideal world we would look to have a different type of
sponsor on the front of our shirt.”
It was the kind of pronouncement that will have sounded alarm for the East African firm,
whose European headquarters are based in the same Building owned by Everton’s majority
shareholder Farhad Moshiri.
A month and a half later, those fears have now been realised.
Everton are now actively seeking a new main partner to fill the gap left by the dissolution
of the deal, which was agreed in 2017, worth just under £10 million per year with bonuses
and had been due to run until 2022.
Barrett-Baxendale is leading a team that also includes chief finance and commercial officer
Sasha Ryazantsev and commercial director Alan McTavish.
Talks are already underway with a number of interested parties, with the aim of finding
what the club considers to be a “blue-chip” partner that is able to grow with the business.
“We understand that this agreement allows Everton to pursue a variety of other commercial
arrangements for next season, which we note they are already doing,” SportPesa said
in a statement to The Athletic.
It is understood both parties signed an agreement giving Everton the opportunity to talk to
and scope out potential new sponsors ahead of the deal’s conclusion.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team sported the ‘Everton in the Community logo ‘on the front of their
shirt for the recent game against Crystal Palace, but the reality is that the club is
not in a financial position to gift the sponsorship to the charity, given the £111.8 million
losses registered in the last set of accounts.
Instead, the new partners will come from outside the business.
The Athletic understands that, despite interest, nothing is imminent or off the table when
it comes to potential sponsorship.
In the face of moves to ban gambling sponsors in football, The Athletic has been told to
expect plenty of Premier League clubs to scope out deals similar to the one Chelsea have
signed with 3, the mobile phone network and broadband provider, which is worth around
£40 million a year.
This allows companies to push the latest 5G to new customers and also potentially gives
the telecoms companies control of stadium wi-fi.
It would, however, be a surprise at this stage if Alisher Usmanov’s USM Holdings or Megafon
were the new shirt sponsors.
The divorce from SportPesa had already been set in motion long before January, with sources
confirming to The Athletic that a strategic review of partnerships, led by Barrett-Baxendale,
had been “ongoing for a while” by the time of the general meeting.
While associations with gambling were a factor, The Athletic understands they were not the
sole determining reason.
A range of other factors were also considered, from economic viability to whether sponsors
shared the same values as the club, with the decision taken by Everton that they needed
a new main partner to grow with the business.
Football’s relationship with the gambling sector has recently moved to the centre of
the public consciousness.
Government advisor Dominic Cummings is leading the charge to ban gambling logos on football
shirts and, according to an exclusive report by Adam Crafton, there is an increasing appetite
among MPs to pass such legislation within the next year.
It is also understood that a delegation of African MPs, mostly Kenyan and Ugandan, recently
visited the Houses of Parliament to express concerns about a number of deals — including
Everton’s relationship with SportPesa — as pressure has increased on clubs to help with
the fight against gambling addiction.
At the end of the second weekend in February, though, following a series of high-level talks
between representatives from the two organisations, Everton announced that they had reached a
mutual agreement to cut ties two years before the end of the deal.
“This has been a difficult decision but one that allows us to best deliver on our
commercial plan and to grasp the new opportunities now open to us,” a club statement read.
Sources close to the talks suggest it was a move engineered by Everton, who offered
the troubled gambling firm a way out of the partnership as concerns mount for SportPesa
In October, the Kenyan side of SportPesa’s operation was forced to close due to disputes
over alleged tax arrears.
Earlier this month, the Football Association of Ireland called time on their partnership
with the company, too.
Otmar Szafnauer, team principal of another partner, Formula One’s Racing Point, recently
told Motorsport they had made changes to their deal at SportPesa’s request due to the company
suffering “some difficulties in their home market.”
Everton were also unable to use the SportPesa logo on children’s kits, while sponsorship
activations, which usually help clubs earn more money from main partners, had dwindled
— perhaps due in part to the negative perception of the brand.
There had also been a number of embarrassing social media gaffes.
SportPesa were forced to issue an apology after congratulating Arsenal for their 5-2
win at Goodison Park in October 2017.
A month later, they deleted another Twitter post in which they mocked Sam Allardyce’s
appointment as manager, incensing fans by saying Everton had “found love in a hopeless
place” in relation to the arrival of the former England boss.
SportPesa is now expected to focus on expanding its community partnerships in its principle
and home markets in Africa, with the priority being to develop grassroots sport.
Everton’s cancellation of the SportPesa agreement is only one part of the jigsaw as
the club look to make ground commercially on their competitors.
Barrett-Baxendale’s current review means all areas of the business will be under