Tom Waterhouse has declined an invitation to appear before the gambling reform committee. Despite headlines suggesting Waterhouse would give evidence, the committee secretary's office told AdNews "that was not true". However, the NRL today suggested that the betting firm frontman's role had been blurred in early coverage of the NRL by Nine.
It is understood Waterhouse had been invited to give evidence to the committee investigating whether TV rules on gambling in sports have been breached, but had declined due to prior business commitments.
In extreme cases, parliament can issue a summons that makes attendance mandatory. A summons had not been issued to Waterhouse.
Giving evidence to the committee today are the NRL, Sportsbet, the Australian Wagering Council, Betfair, ASTRA, Foxtel, Ten, Seven and Nine.
In a wide ranging inquiry, the gambling reform committee is scrutinising the blurring lines between commentary and betting companies.
Reporting from the public hearing in Sydney, The Sydney Morning Herald quoted the NRL's general manager for strategic projects, Shane Mattiske, as stating that the "line had been a bit blurred" between commentator and sponsor. He said moving forwards, coverage would clearly define when a commentator was talking about the game or a sponsor talking about betting odds.
In future, Nine will use a graphic to state Waterhouse's role as a sports betting sponsor, not a commentator and his microphone will not bear the TV network's logo.
The issue has divided media owners and buyers on the broader topic of sponsor integration within programmes. Some have accused media agencies of driving the agenda and pushing the envelope too far. That has been disputed by media agencies and the TV companies.
In the Waterhouse case, even civil servants working within the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy are reluctant to give a view on whether the current rules have been breached.
While authorities have largely agreed a new version of the commercial television code, dates for implementation are yet to be announced. The new codes could be put out for consultation within weeks, the committee heard last week, but would then take time to be ratified by ACMA.
Betting in sports has injected around $100m to the advertising industry over the last two years. Sponsorship deals would likely increase that figure. It is the industry's fastest growing segment during a period of sustained decline in advertising spend.
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