Nottingham Forest have agreed a two-year sponsorship deal with Kaiyun Sports and wore the shirts featuring the logo for the first time in a 1-0 defeat to Burnley in the Carabao Cup.
It is the first front-of-shirt sponsorship deal Forest have agreed since promotion to the Premier League. Last season, they had the charity UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on their kit from December having failed to find a sponsor after promotion.
Kaiyun already has partnerships with other clubs across Europe, including Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, and was Aston Villa’s sleeve sponsor last year.
Forest say they are looking forward to working with Kaiyun “to engage with new and existing audiences in Asia and across the world”.
But what is Kaiyun Sports and how does it operate?
Forest’s press release described Kaiyun as a “leading digital sports platform” and did not mention the words “betting” or “gambling”, but it is a betting website, licensed and regulated in the UK by the Gambling Commission via a third-party — or “white label” company — called TGP Europe, based on the Isle of Man.
Premier League clubs voted to ban all gambling firms from being front-of-shirt sponsors from 2026, but Forest are not alone among top-flight sides in agreeing deals with betting firms while they still can. Seven of the Premier League’s other 19 teams — Aston Villa, Burnley, Bournemouth, Brentford, Everton, Fulham, West Ham — have such agreements.
This deal, though, comes at the expense of a popular charitable cause being on the front of Forest’s shirts, was agreed after the start of the season, and is totally different to a high-street gambling firm targeting people in Nottingham who might want to place a bet. Kaiyun is aiming at the Asian market, specifically targeting users in China it seems, where gambling firms are illegal.
Let The Athletic explain…
Where is Kaiyun Sports based?
For a gambling firm that you might use to place a bet on this week’s football action, whether online or in a betting shop, it should be very easy to find out where its headquarters are.
For any UK-registered company, for instance, the government website Companies House lists this sort of information and other countries have similar services.
The Athletic understands that Kaiyun is based in the Philippines, although this is not confirmed on the company website or the Forest press release, highly unusual for a company negotiating a deal of this size and prominence. No office address is available.
It is common to see companies like Kaiyun referred to as “Chinese” betting companies because the marketing around the announcements often use Mandarin Chinese.
But the company is definitely not based there because gambling firms are strictly illegal in China despite gambling being very popular in the country. To fulfil demand, companies pop up in other countries in order to serve Chinese consumers online.
Kaiyun appears to be one such example. Its bare-bones UK-facing website says it is “powered by” TGP Europe, a firm above a betting shop in Douglas, Isle of Man. Other overseas gambling companies, many of which you will have seen on the front of football club’s shirts, have used websites “powered by” this firm.
It is all made possible by a loophole called the “white label” system, whereby a foreign gambling firm accesses the UK market via a “white label” agreement with a third-party firm based in another jurisdiction – in this case, the Isle of Man.
We know where TGP Europe is based, but we have no idea in what country Kaiyun Sports is based and Nottingham Forest weren’t able to tell us either.
Who runs the company?
Again, this should be a very easy question to answer. For a UK company, you can look up on Companies House who its directors are. Similar platforms exist in other countries.
But for Kaiyun Sports, we simply have no idea who is behind the company.
The Gambling Commission, the body that regulates gambling websites in the UK, has said it is concerned some white label websites may not have effective anti-money-laundering controls or carry out “sufficient due diligence” to ensure there are no “links to criminal activity”.
In April, the Commission found TGP Europe guilty of anti-money-laundering and social responsibility failures between April 2020 and August 2022 and issued the firm with a £316,250 fine.
Additional licence conditions to “ensure thorough due diligence checks are conducted” were added to the operator’s licence and TGP Europe “cooperated with the Commission throughout the investigation and took corrective steps to address the identified failings”.
In April, the UK government released a lengthy document, called a white paper, that set out plans for changing gambling laws.
The section on white labels pledged only the “close monitoring” of such arrangements and nothing about changing the rules.
Forest did not respond to a question about who runs Kaiyun Sports.
Who is Byrne Howard?
Forest’s press release quotes Byrne Howard, chief marketing officer of Kaiyun Sports, saying “the collaboration with Nottingham Forest Football Club will be a milestone for us to step onto the global stage”.
There is, however, no trace of this person online beyond similar quotes in other football club press releases, such as when the Mail on Sunday referenced Howard in January when Real Madrid signed a deal with Kaiyun.
While it may seem far-fetched for a club to quote a person with such a limited digital footprint, it has happened before.
The Athletic revealed Chelsea’s sponsorship deal with a gambling firm called LeYu Sports included several middlemen who used stock images to create LinkedIn profiles.
It is possible that Byrne Howard does exist, but when asked for further information or whether we could speak to him, Forest did not provide a response.
TGP Europe did not respond to a request for comment.
(Top photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)