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Wolves' new shirt sponsor is W88 - but who are they?

By Heather Large | In-depth | Published:

When Wolves ditched controversial shirt sponsor The Money Shop, many fans naturally assumed a big name was being lined up to take their place in preparation for Premier League football.

Wolves managing director Laurie Dalrymple, left, and W88 business development manager Hilly Ehrlich

But after the club announced it's lucrative two-year deal with an Asian online betting and gaming firm they've been left scratching their heads and wondering just who is W88?

A simple Google search doesn't really help much - access to the majority of the firm's website appears to be restricted in this country and the only listing for W88 on Wikipedia describes it as 'a United States thermonuclear warhead' - clearly not the right W88.

But we are living in the times of social media so after turning to Facebook, a few more clues can be found. W88's page, founded in 2013, says it's licensed and regulated in the Philippines and is 'rapidly growing', operating with more than 1,000 employees.

It apparently specialises in sports betting, live dealer casino, poker and slots and lottery games from Beijing, Australia, Canada, Slovakia and Malta, which are available in eight languages including English, Mandarin, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Khmer.

The firm also has a link to English football as former Three Lions and Liverpool player Emile Heskey was signed up to be a brand ambassador in February this year.

When he was unveiled, the retired footballer, who made 500 league appearances over an 18-year career, said he was 'proud' to have been appointed and would be offering 'football tips, news, predictions and match analysis' for the W88 website.

On it's Facebook page, W88 says: "Our restless experts are ready to offer uncompromised sports’ entertainment with quality service, confidential safety and innovative products."

While it's website says: "Our mission is to be dominating as market leader in providing you best quality service, gaming innovation, values, user-friendly interface and the best betting experience on the net, confidential safety, secured and regulated environment."

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When Wolves announced the deal, managing director Laurie Dalrymple met W88 business development manager Hilly Ehrlich, who appears to be as mysterious as the firm he represents with very little information about him to be found online.

An internet search suggests the Tel Aviv University graduate is based in Israel and sees him described as a 'veteran online gambling industry entrepreneur'.

W88's brand ambassador is former England and Liverpool player Emile Heskey

He founded BeatTheBubble.com, a company offering tournament poker insurance and has been a part-time poker player and enthusiast since the 1970s.

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It appears he has also had involvement in online gaming site Party Poker and has worked as vice-president of marketing online for the World Poker Tour and head of poker for Intercontinental Online Gaming.

Speaking about W88's partnership with Wolves, Mr Ehrlich, who paid tribute to the club's 'rich sporting heritage', said it was a 'major step' in expanding the firm's 'global footprint'.

While the deal may have surprised fans, Black Country Chamber of Commerce member Ninder Johal, says that from a business point of view, it does make sense.

Black Country Chamber of Commerce member Ninder Johal says he believes the firm's eagerness to get exposure in the UK along with the financial benefits for Wolves and the club's Chinese owners would have all played a part.

"I think, from a commercial prospective, what's driven this is the amount the sponsor is prepared to pay. I don't think a sponsorship deal is driven by a brand or name.

"I expect the business wants to get into the UK and they are using Wolverhampton Wanderers as a way of getting their brand into the UK," he said.

The W88 logo, which will be changed to black and grey, rather than their brand’s usual blue colour, will also feature on Wolves' full range of training wear, which will be released alongside the new home kit later this month.

But, due to the nature of the business, the brand will not be on any products designed for supporters under the age of 18 with a dedicated junior kit sponsor due to be announced.

Mr Johal said: "It's good that the sponsor will not be on kits sold for children and this also shows the desire of the business to get in the UK as they will have considered that there are only so many shirts their brand can be printed on."

"Wolves, like Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, have Chinese owners so brands like this are also reflective of the club's ownership," he added.

Meanwhile Prof Mike Haynes, from the University of Wolverhampton, said the sponsorship deal was a sign of times.

"The economics of the Premier League has become more and more detached from its home base and when you add to this the way that clubs can become trophies for their owners then it becomes easier to understand deals like this," he said.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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