12 Apr 2022

By: Sport Industry Group

The Committee of Advertising Practice has announced that gambling and betting companies will be banned from using sports personalities within advertising, under new rules designed to protect under-18s and other vulnerable groups. We caught up with Head of Sport at We Are Social Sport, Joe Weston, to find out why he thinks the decision is long overdue…

Last week, it was announced that gambling and betting companies will be banned from featuring sports personalities and celebrities associated with youth culture in their ads. My initial reaction? Long overdue, and still too limited in scope.

Betting and gambling firms have long felt like a stain on modern football. They have flooded the sport with sponsorship money, dominated social feeds with questionable banter, packed the ad breaks of every football match, and surrounded pitch sides with branded hoardings. 85% of Premier League and 75% of Championship clubs list a gambling sponsor or partner. As a result, a gambling brand is now visible up to 89% of the time on Match of the Day, which is watched by up to 7 million people each week (including on demand viewers).

Much more worryingly, 55,000 children are already addicted to gambling, a figure that rose by 400% between 2016 and 2018 alone according to the gambling commission.

Clearly, the scale and impact is a concern, but more broadly, gambling feels like a relic of the past. Football culture, and more importantly the players playing it have moved on significantly. Once upon a time, the beautiful game had an image that fitted nicely into the gambling scene, but now players are no longer just pretty faces and talented sportspeople, they’re activists, role models and personalities with important voices. Marcus Rashford is a prime example of this shift. How contradictory would it be to see him advertising a betting firm, then heading off to talk about the importance of free school meals? 

Just like with social media stars and influencers, sports fans are expecting more from their heroes and are holding them accountable for what they put their energy into. Sportspeople have even more control over this than ever, with social media allowing them to define the kind of athlete they want to be perceived as. With this change, there is hope that the next generation of athletes will consider the partnerships that they strike up with more caution. We’re already seeing evidence of this; our latest work for Vodafone UK sees tennis’ Emma Raducanu using her profile to help other aspiring athletes achieve their dreams. This is the kind of content that we need to be putting in front of young people, rather than the promotion of unhealthy habits. 

The industry has also become more vocal about mental health. Influential figures like Naomi Osaka, Tyson Fury and Paul Pogba have spoken up about their mental health issues, with the notion of ‘not always being on your A-game’ becoming a more accepted concept. So how can industry figures stand and speak about these issues, whilst promoting an industry that can lead to unhealthy addiction and deep financial consequences? There are over an estimated 400 suicides a year in the UK associated with gambling. The sports industry has the responsibility to advertise products and services that aren’t going to harm the mental health of its loyal fans. 

Importantly, the new ban does not cover football shirts, meaning the sport isn’t completely parting ways with betting firms. In 2021, eight of the twenty main Premier League shirt sponsors were gambling companies. So, there’s plenty of room for gambling to maintain its grasp in this sphere. 

There’s also ambiguity about what these new changes mean. Does this cover social media and how will it be controlled? With the ban aimed at protecting young people, social media’s inclusion in this will be fundamental, with sports stars clocking up huge followings from impressionable fans. It’s clear that the blurred lines mean that there won’t be an overnight change that sees the industry kick its betting habit. 

Yet, as gambling companies face a future of advertising without these sports stars, perhaps it’s time for the industry to think less about the income and more about the impact. The ASA said that children are still seeing on average 2.2 betting or gambling ads a week. What if we now utilise our sporting heroes within advertising that matters and inspires? 

With the Qatar World Cup on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how this change will play out and which brands and organisations footballers will be associating themselves with. This will set the precedent for tournaments going forward and give a clear indication of whether this ban has actually had an impact on the industry. Advertising space previously occupied with gambling advertisements will be up for grabs, presenting a fantastic opportunity to switch up the content that sports fans expect; exciting times are ahead. 


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