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Background and aims
European countries have varied approaches to regulating alcohol sport sponsorship and advertising during sporting events. For example: France’s Évin Law prohibits alcohol sports sponsorship, the Republic of Ireland (hereafter ‘Ireland’) will soon introduce new controls that partially prohibit alcohol advertising in (or on) the sporting area, and the United Kingdom (UK) has a permissive self-regulatory approach.
European-wide tournaments, such as the rugby union Six Nations Championship, provide a real-world opportunity to examine how these varied control contexts influence marketing practice. We used the 2020 Six Nations Championship to examine:
- The frequency and nature of alcohol marketing during the tournament
- How Ireland’s impending restrictions may influence alcohol marketing practice during televised sport
- To what extent France’s Évin Law impacts on the frequency and nature of marketing during the tournament
A content analysis was conducted on all verbal and visual references to alcohol (lasting >1 second) during televised broadcasts of the 2020 Six Nations Championship, an international rugby union tournament. A purposive sample of four matches were recorded as broadcast on television in the UK.
This included two matches played in Ireland (vs. Scotland and vs. Wales), one played in Scotland (UK) (vs. England), and one played in France (vs. England). Two matches were broadcast on a non-commercial channel (BBC) and the other two on a commercial channel (ITV). All matches were played before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the tournament to be postponed and latterly completed without spectators present in stadiums. For each alcohol reference, we recorded:
- Whether it appeared in-play or out-of-play
- Where it appeared in the broadcast (e.g., within sporting area)
- The format (e.g., static advertising or match equipment)
- The brand featured
- How long it appeared on screen
- How many identical references were visible simultaneously
- The content of the reference (e.g., logos, indirect references, generic reference, age-restriction warnings, and responsible drinking messages)
Alcohol marketing was most frequent in the match played in the UK, with an average of approximately 5 references per broadcast minute. This was followed by the two matches played in Ireland (average of approximately 4 references per broadcast minute) and the match played in France (average 1 reference per broadcast minute).
In all four broadcasts, and in all three countries, references were mostly observed during the match and in high-profile locations, including large static logos in the middle of the pitch and logos on the match equipment (e.g., on the ball and goal posts). In Ireland and Scotland, almost all references contained explicit branding, whereas most references in France used ‘alibi’ marketing (i.e., the phrase ‘Greatness’ as opposed to brand name ‘Guinness’, albeit presented using similar fonts and colour).
In all four broadcasts, no references contained age restriction warnings and only a minority had clearly visible responsible drinking messages.
Alcohol marketing appeared frequently in televised broadcasts of the 2020 Six Nations Championship. The data have mixed implications for Ireland’s scheduled restrictions on advertising during sporting events. On the one hand, the data show the new controls will prohibit some frequently used marketing activities, for example the highly visible static logo in the middle of the pitch that was frequently shown.
On the other hand, the data also show alcohol marketing already appears in a variety of other locations that will not be restricted by Ireland’s new controls, for example pitch side advertising and advertising placed around the stadium structure. These places, which fall outside the sporting area stipulated by Ireland’s impending controls, will provide high-profile opportunities to either preserve or displace marketing activity.
Concerning France, alcohol sponsorship was still evident through alibi marketing, despite the practice being seemingly prohibited under the wording of the Évin Law. As such, questions remain over the monitoring and enforcement of the French law, a finding which has implications for the changing context in Ireland and any consideration of controls in either the UK or elsewhere.
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