Drinking: brought to you by sport?


Photo By Wally Gobetz

Advertisement at Sporting Venue (CC BY 2.0)

Julian Vicentini, Reporter

It’s in your face at all professional sporting events. Sponsorship and advertisements are everywhere, shamelessly trying to promote their company or business.

The most common? Alcohol advertisements. You can’t attend sporting events without seeing them. Are they harmless attempts to promote their company? Or are they causing long-term effects on our drinking behaviours?

A study on this topic was published recently in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. It was conducted by an international team, including researchers from Monash in Melbourne, and funded by the French Academic Research Community and health ministry. The study involved 109 participants from France, who were exposed to 10 minutes of a rugby match. While watching the match, two sponsorship messages were featured, one for a well-known global beer, the other for a local beer.

The team measured the participants’ outlook towards alcohol before and after watching the video.  They found that the advertising and sponsorships did affect their attitudes towards alcohol.

According to a statement released by Monash University, the results suggest that “alcohol advertising and sponsorship exposure may change attitudes in an automatic fashion, because it doesn’t require an individual to cognitively process the advertising stimuli.

“Repeated exposure to alcohol advertising in sport, either at venues or during media coverage of matches, can have long-term effects on drinking attitudes.”

Dr Oulmann Zerhouni, head of the study, reported the research “found that exposing people to an alcohol brand, and more strongly to a mainstream alcohol brand, leads to more positive attitudes towards alcohol more generally”.

The alcohol industry accounts for roughly 20% of all sporting sponsorships internationally. Examples in Australia include beer company, Carlton Draught, being a major sponsor for the Australian Football League (AFL) and Tooheys being a major partner for the National Rugby League (NRL). On a local level, Gage Roads Brewing Company has a partnership with Optus Stadium.

Co-author of the Monash study, Professor Kerry O’Brien, described the study’s findings saying: “What we showed is that alcohol advertising and sponsorship not only send a message directly encouraging people to drink, but tends to implicitly and/or unconsciously associate a product, like beer, within a specific context of going to the football or watching a sports match on television.”

People who attend professional sporting events are there to watch their team perform and play to win. Because sport fans are shown alcohol sponsorships and advertising on a repetitive occasion, Professor O’Brien believes that this will “likely have a long-term effect on their drinking”.

But, can this also affect our long-term health?

The Alcohol Think Again website states the long-term effects alcohol can have on people, explaining that “nearly one in five drink at levels that place them at risk of alcohol-related harm and ill-health in their lifetime”.

The website states that “there are a significant number of alcohol-related diseases and health problems caused by alcohol consumption in Australia,” some effects include:

  • cancer (bowel, breast, throat, mouth, liver)
  • liver disease
  • cardiovascular disease
  • stroke
  • dependence
  • mental health problems

The study’s finding beg questions about the impact alcohol sponsorship of sporting events may have on children.

ACMA’s usual restrictions are that alcohol ads can only be broadcast on commercial television between 12 noon and 3pm on school days and from 8.30pm to 5am on any day on free-to-air television.

But when sporting events are televised, the Australian Communications and Media Authority allows broadcast of games and their embedded sponsorships to be “shown during sports programs on public holidays and weekends (starting from 6.00 pm Friday)” – meaning that sports sponsorship is a strategy used by alcohol companies to get around the rules put in place to protect children.