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Reducing harm caused by alcohol

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Time to Blow the Whistle on Alcohol Sport Sponsorship

  • New research shows for the first time the high levels of exposure to alcohol sport sponsorship in professional football and rugby union in Scotland
  • Alcohol marketing references featured once every 15 seconds in live Six Nations rugby match and once every 98 seconds in a live Scottish Premier League match
  • Exposure to marketing activity is linked with drinking initiation and increased alcohol consumption
  • A minority of clubs have alcohol sponsors and only 7% of overall sponsors were alcohol companies

Guinness pro14

The Guinness Pro14. Editorial credit: LiveMediaSrl / Shutterstock.com

Alcohol Focus Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) are calling for the Scottish Government to curb sponsorship of professional sport by alcohol companies following new research into the extent, nature and frequency of the practice. 

The new research from Institute for Social Marketing and Health at the University of Stirling highlights that where alcohol companies sponsor clubs and tournaments there is high frequency of alcohol references, and advertising is sophisticated and integrated into the club identity.

Sponsors are visible throughout match-days with pitch-side hoardings and shirt sponsors but also in the pre-match build-up over days and weeks before competition with extensive social media activity, product endorsement from players, competition tie-ins and limited edition products. 

Millions of people – including children and young people – are exposed to alcohol sponsorship. The evidence is clear that alcohol marketing exposure is a cause of binge drinking and drinking onset among young people. It also influences their attitudes and increases their likelihood of developing problems with alcohol later in life.

Given the billions of pounds alcohol companies pump into advertising it is naive to assume there is no impact on the drinking behaviours of the rest of the population.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “Sponsorship by alcohol companies has been woven into the fabric of the sports we love capitalising on our emotional connections to our teams and players, so that we associate certain alcohol brands with healthy activity and high-performing athletes. 

“Sport should be clean – it should inspire good health and active participation - and to use it as a promotional vehicle for an addictive and health-harming product is simply unacceptable. The current system of self-regulation is no regulation.  It is failing to protect people – especially our children and other vulnerable people. The Scottish Government needs to act.”

Dr Eric Carlin, Director of SHAAP said,“It’s easy to understand why many clubs are attracted to the income alcohol sponsorship can provide but we need to look to clubs and organisations who are managing well without this sponsorship and move away from products, like alcohol, which cause huge problems in Scotland.

“Scottish Women’s Football have shown leadership in rejecting alcohol and gambling sponsorship.  It’s time for others to follow their lead and protect their fans and players. The Scottish Government needs to introduce comprehensive and robust restrictions on alcohol sport sponsorship.”

Dr Richard Purves, from the Institute for Social Marketing and Health at the University of Stirling said,“This new research provides, for the first time, insight into the extent, nature, and frequency of alcohol sponsorship within two of Scotland’s most popular spectator sports, football and rugby union.

“Alcohol sponsorship was particularly visible in rugby union, both in terms of the number of sponsorship relations with alcohol companies and how often alcohol marketing references appeared in the television broadcasts analysed. For football, alcohol sponsorship appeared to be more prevalent amongst larger or more successful teams, for example those playing at the top-level, compared to clubs which offered fewer opportunities for national and international exposure, such as those in the lower-leagues.” 

This research comes at a time when the place of gambling in sport has been called into question and we need to consider the propriety of linking any addictive and health-harming product with sport.

In Scotland, one in four of us are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines and every year alcohol is responsible for almost four thousand deaths, over thirty-thousand hospital admissions and countless problems for families and communities.

Investigators from Children’s Parliament found that 9-11 year olds had awareness and knowledge of alcohol sport with one child able to give specific details of pitch-side advertising and sponsorship activity he had encountered. 

This week, Members of Children’s Parliament met with the First Minister and the Cabinet and called to make alcohol less visible for children. This includes ending sponsorship of sports and eventsat which children may be present in order to ensure all children grow up in an environment free from the negative impact of alcohol.

Alcohol Focus Scotland and SHAAP recommend that the Scottish Government should end alcohol sport sponsorship of professional sport, ensuring that comprehensive and robust restrictions form part of a broader strategy to control alcohol marketing in Scotland.  

The Scottish Government’s upcoming consultation on marketing restrictions provides a timely opportunity to consider comprehensive regulations to protect people from alcohol marketing.