EPL’s Norwich City Ditches Primary Sponsor BK8 Over Seedy Promos

English Football League Championship winner Norwich City has torn up a sponsorship deal with Asian-facing betting outfit BK8 following controversy over the company’s use of sexualized images of young women.

BK8
BK8
One of BK8’s promos involved young models in a highly suggestive hotdog-eating competition (left). The company signed the deal to sponsor Norwich City jerseys last Saturday (center). Images from BK8 Malaysian marketing are on the right. (Image: Daily Mail)

‘The Canaries’ signed the deal, believed to have been worth £5 million ($7 million), on Saturday, but the team’s directors changed their minds just three days later following an outcry from fans.

The main complaint was about BK8’s social media channels which contained marketing campaigns targeting Asian countries. These depicted models who appeared to be teenagers or young women in suggestive poses and various states of undress.

As The Athletic notes, such a campaign would be banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. In the UK, operators are not permitted to use sex to sell gambling, nor are they allowed to feature anyone in their promotional material who even appears to be under 25.

The Athletic also found that one BK8 Instagram ambassador, who had more than a quarter of a million followers, linked directly to hardcore pornography.

Who’s Owns BK8?

BK8 is one of a new breed of gambling sites that use the global reach of the English Premier League (EPL), in which Norwich will play next season, as a springboard to hard-to-reach markets. Usually, these markets are ‘hard to reach’ because they have banned online gambling.

These sites often have nominal licensing in the UK via a white-label partner, but in reality they have little interest in engaging with the UK market.

White-label providers typically offer companies turnkey gaming solutions and other services. This includes the right to operate under the provider’s master license.

BK8 says on its website it targets countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Online gambling is illegal in all these countries.

It’s unclear who is behind BK8 or even where it is based. The company holds licenses in Malta and Curacao. It “operates” in the UK via white-label partner ProgressPlay, a limited company headquartered and licensed in Malta.

‘Error of Judgment’

Norwich City COO Ben Kensell said in a statement his team had worked hard to “build trust and engagement” with supporters and partners and did not want to throw that away with an ill-judged sponsorship deal.

“We place huge value on our open and honest relationships with our community and supporters,” he said. “As a self-financed club there is always a fine balance between generating the revenue levels required to help maintain that model, whilst working within our visions and values.

“On this occasion, we made an error of  judgement. Our standards were not at the levels we demand of our football club,” he added.

Norwich will enter the EPL by virtue of its first-place finish in the championship last season. With funds already depleted by the pandemic, it is now back in the hunt for a primary sponsor.

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