When Does Alcohol Sponsorship of Sport Become Sports Sponsorship of Alcohol? A Case Study of Developments in Sport in Australia

Article excerpt

Executive summary

Sponsorship of sporting events by the alcohol industry is a common practice in Australia, perhaps even more so than in other countries, and there is currently much debate between industry groups and public health advocates about the appropriateness of inexorably linking sport with the advertising and promotion of alcohol. The aim of this paper is not to provide a systematic audit of all alcohol sponsorships of sporting teams and events in Australia, but rather to provide some illustrative examples of current alcohol sponsorships that have been reported in the trade press, and to review in detail a current case study to appreciate the extent and nature of the complex relationship between sport and alcohol sponsors.

It is not uncommon for professional sporting competitions to have more than one alcohol sponsor, although rarely in competing product categories. Australian cricket provides a good example of this scenario. Foster's VB has the naming rights for Australia's annual one-day cricket series, but comfortably shares sponsorship with a brand of scotch whisky. However, in this saturated market, competing alcohol companies develop a range of strategies to form a link in the minds of consumers between their brand and Australia's national summer sport. While these include marketing tools such as advertising campaigns, interactive websites, promotional materials and devices that associate sporting teams and individual players with the consumption of alcohol, Lion Nathan took this one step further by creating a sporting competition (the XXXX Beach Cricket Series) purely to promote an alcohol brand. Despite some claims of unethical conduct--mainly related to accusations from Foster's of ambush marketing--this marketing campaign was welcomed and even celebrated by the media, sports fans and governments (including local councils and even John Howard, the then Australian prime minister).

It was suggested in the late 1990s that public awareness of the impact of alcohol abuse on society would lead to increasing pressure to regulate alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, and public health advocates having been calling for such regulation for more than a decade. However, the Australian government does not appear to be heeding the call, despite mounting evidence that the symbiotic relationship between alcohol and sport in Australia is a key contributor to alcohol-related harm. Not only is alcohol sponsorship of sport thriving, we are now seeing sports sponsorship of alcohol.

Alcohol and sport in Australia

Drinking behaviours and attitudes are strongly influenced by social and cultural norms and by the social situation in which alcohol is consumed (e.g. Greenfield & Room, 1997; McDaniel et al, 2001). The close association between alcohol and sport is particularly problematic, with evidence that young people who watch televised sport are exposed to extensive alcohol advertising (Centre on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2003) and that those young people who are sports fans drink more alcohol and experience more alcohol-related problems (Nelson & Weschler, 2003).

Among Australian teenagers and young adults consumption of alcohol is typically associated with sport as an important component of post-game celebrations (McGuifficke et al, 1991). However, it is also associated with the general ethos of being part of the team, and men in particular are more likely to drink excessively when socialising with members of their sporting team than with other groups of friends (Black et al, 1999).

Australia has been described as "a model case where alcohol and sport are united in a close partnership" (Munro, 2000, p.199). For example, a survey among Queensland-based surf lifesaving, rugby union and Australian Rules football club patrons found that 40% usually drank five or more alcoholic drinks on each visit, 22% drank seven or more, and 5% drank 13 or more (Connolly, 2006); this is significantly more than the recommended maximum of four standard drinks (National Health & Medical Research Council, 2009). …