Fun88 are one of several Asia-based bookmakers that have paid big money to get themselves visible in the upper tiers of English football. They are perhaps best known for their lengthy six-year sponsorship of Newcastle United – a deal that came to an end in 2023. Unlike some of their rival brands, Fun88 have not secured short-term deals with a long list of clubs, preferring instead to forge fewer but more long-lasting partnerships.
Who Are They?
Fun88 first emerged in 2008 as they targeted the East Asian market. They hit the ground running too as the following year they were nominated for ‘Asian Live Gaming Operator of the Year’ at the EGR Awards. In fact, they did the same again in 2010, during a time they were really making a name for themselves in the region.
Owners Welton Holdings Limited, something of an unknown entity, own the brand and they fancied expanding Fun88 into the UK market. Currently, their UK-facing site, fun88.co.uk, is operated by TGP Europe. Agreeing a white label deal with licensed operator TGP Europe has been a popular option for Asian (or African) betting firms looking to move into the tightly-regulated UK market. It means that brands, like Fun88, do not need to apply for their own licence but simply piggyback onto the one TGP Europe has.
The practice is somewhat controversial and there are people that are not keen on these rather mysterious betting firms penetrating both the UK market and English football. Many of the bookies, like Fun88, are based in the Philippines but a report from The Athletic suggests they pay to sponsor teams to help boost trade in China. As betting is illegal in China, normal forms of advertising are not permitted but featuring on a football shirt, which is broadcast to homes, bars and so on is a major way around this. Even the name Fun88 is intended to resonate with a Chinese audience as 88 is a number that symbolises good luck in that country.
So, in answer to the question, who are Fun88? Ultimately, we don’t really know much other than they are an Asian bookmaker that does most of its business on the Asian continent. What we do know more about is the sponsorship deals they have agreed with English football teams over the years.
Football Sponsorship Deals
The two shirts sponsorship deals and one commercial partnership mentioned below are only some of the exposure-increasing partnerships Fun88 have penned. Across other sports they have been partners of the Caribbean Premier League and Indian Premier League (both cricket) as well as the Danish Esports organisation OG. Brand ambassadors are also a big part of their corporate strategy and this has seen them use the likes of Robbie Fowler, Iker Casillas, Kobe Bryant and Daren Sammay in promotional materials.
Burnley FC (February 2010 & June 2014)
Most shirt sponsorship deals are agreed upon, or at least announced, during the summer break, when clubs are enjoying some well-deserved time off. News of Burnley’s first deal with Fun88 in 2010 broke much sooner though, with fans knowing who the next season’s sponsor would be months in advance. Speaking about the partnership, a spokesman for Welton Holdings Limited, Nick Lee, said this was a key deal for Fun88 as they were drawing up plans to enter the European market.
At the time the two-year deal was made public, Burnley were enjoying top-flight football but looked set to be involved in an intense relegation battle. A weak end to the campaign saw them face the drop, meaning Fun88 would only feature in the Championship (2010/11) during their first major venture into European football sponsorship. The Clarets did not bounce back immediately either (2011/12) so it is likely this deal was not worth as much as initially reported. At the time of the announcement, exact figures were not published but it was claimed as a club-record, multi-million-pound agreement.
Fun88 did not renew their two-deal, which elapsed in 2012, but they did come back to Turf Moor in 2014. With the Clarets having confirmed their return to the top flight for the 2014/15 campaign, Fun88 sought the opportunity to get their first taste of Premier League football sponsorship. As they already had a strong relationship with the Lancashire side, they were a clear candidate for the role. As before, it was another two-year partnership and one claimed to be a record-breaking deal for the club.
Newcastle United (May 2017)
Having not extended their deal with Burnley at the end of the 2015/16 season, this left Fun88 without their name on any English football shirt. They only spent one year with this being the case though as the Asian bookmaker managed to agree to terms with Newcastle United. Although the Magpies were playing in the Championship at the time, their promotion to the Premier League was already confirmed by the time the deal with Fun88 was announced.
Replacing the controversial short-term loans company, Wonga, Fun88 penned a three-year agreement with the North East club. In doing so the bookmakers became the most lucrative principal partner Newcastle had ever had. The precise value was not revealed publicly by either party but Sporting Intelligence believed the deal to be worth £6m a season. Despite their newly promoted status, this was much more than many others teams in the division.
Looking to benefit from this new partnership as much as possible, Newcastle launched three new social media channels in Asia – WeChat, Weibo and Dongqiudi – providing people in the region with exclusive content. So, not only were Newcastle being paid a handsome sum but they were increasing their profile in a region they had not really explored previously.
With both parties benefitting from the three-year deal, they agreed to extend it in 2020, providing a level of sponsorship consistency not too commonly seen in top-flight football. The duration of the extension was unknown but the club confirmed it was a ‘long-term contract’. It was largely a continuation of the previous terms with Fun88 featuring on all player shirts and on training wear too. With Newcastle having enjoyed some mid-table stability by this point, plus a general inflation of sponsorship fees, the new deal cost Fun88 a reported £9m a season, roughly a 50% increase on the previous arrangement.
This extended deal with Fun88, which The Athletic later claimed to be six years long, was cut short however following the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle. There were no issues with Fun88 as such but Newcastle wanted to agree to an early termination (presumably at some expense to themselves) to enable them to pen a much more lucrative sponsorship deal. Even their new sleeve deal, announced in June 2022, was worth a reported £7.5m, so £9m for the front-of-shirt sponsor now seemed something of a bargain.
Tottenham (August 2012)
Although Fun88 has never featured on the Tottenham Hotspur shirt, it is worth mentioning they have had a close relationship with the club for many years. The two first joined forces in 2012 with Fun88 becoming the London club’s Official Asian Betting and Gaming Partner. This initial two-year deal did expire in 2014 but Fun88 returned in 2016 becoming Tottenham’s official betting partner in Asia and Latin America.
Seemingly happy with the partnership, the contract was extended in 2018 and then once again in 2021. A Fun88 spokesman said how “naturally thrilled” they were when speaking about the latter deal, but their level of enthusiasm was certainly not shared by on-loan goalkeeper, Pierluigi Gollini, judging by his expression at the announcement.