Alcohol brands defend sports sponsorships

By Rosie Baker | 6 January 2014

Alcohol makers including Diageo, Lion and Carlton and United Breweries have defended their involvement in sports sponsorship after calls for tighter restrictions on advertising within live broadcasts of sports matches.

The Australian Greens have claimed alcohol brands who sponsor live sports are taking advantage of a “loophole” within regulations that allows them to advertise before the 8:30pm watershed which means children and young people are exposed to the adverts. Richard Di Natale, acting leader of the party, claims alcohol brands linking to cricket and football is the “dark side” of Australian sport and claims it is fuelling a “dangerous and unhealthy” culture of drinking.

Lion says a ban on advertising or sponsorship is not the way to deal with the complex issue of alcohol misuse and claims the argument is "flawed".

Australia has some of the most robust regulations around advertising alcohol in the world, according to both Diageo and CUB, which both have their own internal codes of practice as well as an industry-wide code. The drinks makers have hit back at the accusations saying the claims don't tally with the evidence.

A spokesperson for Lion says sports sponsorship has no impact on increasing consumption of alcohol, pointing out that while many beer brands sponsor sports events, beer consumption is in decline. Its impact is instead on brand preference.

"“The majority of Australians moderately consume alcohol in a responsible manner. We believe that banning or reducing alcohol advertising in sports sponsorship will not provide a solution to the complex cultural issue of misuse, and the suggestion that alcohol advertising or sponsorships encourages excessive consumption or promotes underage drinking is flawed – brewers are advertisers, and yet the beer market has been in sustained volume decline for many years, and research indicates that by far the major influences on drinking behaviours are deep seated cultural factors. Furthermore, current advertising regulations prohibit advertising to at-risk groups, such as those underage.

Jeremy Griffith, CUB head of corporate affairs, told AdNews the numbers show that people are actually drinking less and there is less under-age drinking, which reflects that the industry is accountable and practising responsibly.

“It's what I call the inconvenient truth for the health lobby because the numbers just don't match their argument. There is no need for new regulation because the industry is well managed and acting responsibly,” he said.

Griffith said the reason its brands sponsor sports including the cricket, AFL and NRL is that more than 90% of the viewing audience is adult, with a strong male skew - its “heartland demographic”. The company has no involvement in sports like netball, swimming or athletics where there is more participation from young people.

Wile the remaining 10% of the audience may well be under-18s, Griffith says this is why the industry invests in education campaigns like Drinkwise.

He said: “The argument is that we are targeting the next generation of drinkers but the reality is that the reason we sponsor [sports] is because of the large viewing audience in our demographic. The biggest influencer [for children] is not a logo on a football shirt, but the behaviour of their parents. That's why education is critical.”

Diageo's Ailish Hanley, head of corporate relations, said the evidence base for the claims is “weak” adding that there is “insufficient” evidence to suggest that alcohol marketing encourages excessive or under-age consumption. She told AdNews: “As a global manufacturer we recognise we have a duty to market responsibly. All we're looking for is evidence-based policy on this issue – there are lots of claims but it's about looking at what the real evidence is. The most effective way of making sure you target adult audiences is by making sure you look at the audience demographics."

If there was to be a ban on alcohol brands sponsoring sports events, that would leave a significant gap in funding for sports rights that would need to come from elsewhere.

Hanley said: “Any investment that goes into sports codes has a benefit to the wider community so that's a factor that needs to be considered.

Di Natale called for a Senate inquiry into alcohol promotion and advertising but the industry is questioning the need for a second enquiry as there is already a review underway covering alcohol advertising regulations, including marketing and sport and focusing on the impact on young people, put in place by the previous government in 2012. A response was due from government before the end of 2013, but the change in leadership late last year is thought to have delayed it.

The call coincided with the final of the Ashes which finished yesterday with the Australian team beating the Brits 5-0.

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