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Should alcohol marketing in TV football be restricted?

By Mark Viney


As summer’s soft thwack of leather on willow fades, the roar of winter football increases. So too does the amount of alcohol marketing we’ll be exposed to, as shown by new work presented at the British Science Festival yesterday.

Britain seems to have a problem with booze, but it is a very lucrative and profitable market. The Wine and Sprit Trade Association calculates that £37 billion was spent by UK consumers on alcohol in 2012, which included £16 billion of tax duty.

The alcohol industry also spends a lot on advertising: £200 million per on direct advertising such as television commercials or newspaper advertisements. Three times as much – £600 million – is spent on other marketing, including sponsorship of events, such as music festivals or of sport.

Dr Andrew Graham and Dr Jean Adams of Newcastle University have now systematically studied the marketing of alcohol in football matches broadcast in the UK. They watched 6 football matches from the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup and Championship. In 18 hours of television – which included the pre-match analysis, half-time digest, and the match post mortem – Graham and Adams logged every visual or verbal reference to alcohol.

References to alcohol were everywhere – an average of 111 visual references each hour, about 2 per minute. Most of these references – 2,042 – were visual references, such as on players’ shirts, or on hoardings around the pitch. There were just 32 verbal references – mainly commentators referring to competition sponsors. This marketing dominated the formal alcohol commercials to which less than 1% of broadcast time was devoted.

Marketing of alcohol seems to work – “kids [people under 16] exposed to alcohol marketing drink younger and drink more” said Adams.

The regulation of advertising, sponsorship and marketing of alcohol is regulated both by the independent Advertising Standards Authority and the industry-funded Portman group, which promotes responsible drinking on behalf of the UK’s leading alcohol producers.

Commenting on the current situation, Adams said “there’s growing evidence that self-regulation is no longer working and we need to start thinking of better ways to regulate the marketing of alcohol”.

The Portman Group said that “Government figures show that fewer and fewer children are even trying alcohol and the number of adults that drink to harmful levels is also falling. The drinks industry is committed to responsible marketing practices in all forms to help continue these positive national trends.”

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