Sponsor a child

Alcohol sponsorship in sports is more common than you think

Researchers from the universities of Otago and Canterbury present the case for restricting alcohol sponsorship for broadcast sports.

For those concerned about the effects of alcohol on public health, the recent political announcement was perhaps a little “glass half empty” to be cause for outright celebration.

As Justice Minister Kiri Allan describethe government’s liquor law review will begin with the implementation of just one of the reforms proposed in Green MP Chloe Swarbrick The Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimization) Amendment Bill.

This reform will remove a legal appeals process that the alcohol industry has used to hinder or exclude community input into decisions about alcohol availability. But the government would not commit to the second wing of the private member’s bill, to remove alcohol sponsorship from broadcast (primarily professional) sports.

We hope the government will address this key issue. Because behind Swarbrick’s bill hide some unpleasant truths: alcohol is one of the main causes of cancer, mental illness, suicide, brain damage in children and a lot social harm. In Aotearoa, alcohol contributes to a estimated at 800 dead each year and costs the economy approx. NZ$7.85 billion.

Here we outline the case for both changing the appeals process and restricting alcohol sponsorship for broadcast sports.

The case of the removal of appeals

Under current legislation, local councils can develop Local Alcohol Policies (LAPs) to allow the community to participate in decisions about how alcohol should be sold in their area.

LAPs can specify the number (if any) and location of new liquor outlets, as well as the hours and conditions (such as window advertising) of sale.

However, large companies often block LAPs using their right of appeal. The two main supermarket companies in the country have appealed 86% of LAPswhile bottle shops appealed to 72% of them.

These calls have led many councils to drop or water down their policies. Seven years and NZ$1 million laterthe Auckland council is still LAP-free – along with Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton.

Alcohol outlets in the city of Wellington, showing highest availability (darkest color) versus lowest availability (lightest color). (Image: Supplied/The Conversation)

Thus, community attempts to influence the location and density of liquor outlets were rendered ineffective. This makes the government’s commitment to level the playing field a welcome announcement.

The Case for Changing Alcohol Sponsorship

The bill also adopted the recommendations of two reviews initiated by the government, by the Law Commission in 2010 and the Ministerial Forum on Advertising and Sponsorship in 2014, to impose restrictions on alcohol sponsorship in sport.

Sports sponsorship is the main driver of children’s exposure to alcohol marketing in Aotearoa. A New Zealand study called Kids’ Cam, where children wore automated cameras for four days, found that children were exposed to the marketing of alcohol via sports sponsorship 1.4 times a day on average. Maori and Pacific children are exposed to four or five times more alcohol sponsorship than European New Zealand children.

Images from the Kids' Cam project showing children's exposure to alcohol marketing through alcohol sponsorship.
Images from the Kids’ Cam project showing children’s exposure to alcohol marketing through alcohol sponsorship. (Image: Supplied/The Conversation)

The marketing of alcohol, including sponsorship, increases the risk of children drinking at an earlier age, drinking more once they start, and drinking more dangerously. As such, the marketing of alcohol is considered a causal factor for alcohol consumption. Simply put, alcohol marketing drives consumption.

Alcohol sponsorship is a small portion of revenue

Opponents generally suggest that sponsorship restrictions will destroy community sport and affect the financial viability of professional sport. But these arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

First, the bill is designed to limit only broadcast sports. Many community sports are unlikely to feel any direct impact from the restrictions.

Second, the total value of all sports alcohol sponsorships, including community sports, was NZ$21 million in 2014. This is equivalent to Less than 1% of all revenue generated by sports and recreation in Aotearoa.

As of September 2022, Sport New Zealand had no updated information of any kind on the value of alcohol sponsorship or sponsorship in general. Despite this, the organization recently advised Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson that a sponsorship ban “would have a profound impact on the ability of some organizations to continue to provide sport and recreation opportunities”.

Sport New Zealand’s opinion did not contain any figures to support this claim. He also mentioned income that would not be impacted by the bill (sponsorship of clubrooms, for example). In the past, Robertson and some of his cabinet colleagues have voted in favor of various bills proposing more restrictive measures on the marketing of alcohol than the current MP’s bill.

Sponsorship can be replaced

Liquor industry sponsorship revenue could be replaced by an increase in the existing liquor tax of around two cents per beer.

A two-cent levy increase assumes that no other sponsors would replace liquor sponsors. However, when tobacco sponsorship changed in the early 1990s through a sponsorship replacement program, approximately 50% of all tobacco sponsorships was replaced immediately.

The range and number of industries sponsoring the sport has grown since the 1990s. Globally, the alcohol industry contributes only 2.1% of all sports sponsorship revenue.

Evidence available in Aotearoa suggests a similar contribution. Only three of the ten major national sports organizations (rugby, cricket and golf) have an alcohol sponsor. In each case, the alcohol sponsor is not a primary sponsor, suggesting that its relative contribution is lower than that of other companies.

It’s time for evidence-based policy

Although some sports organizations may struggle to lose any sponsorship revenue, claims that community or professional sports fold are not supported by the available evidence.

In contrast, there are decades of longitudinal evidence demonstrating the harms of alcohol marketing, including sponsorship. The body of evidence has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify marketing restrictions as one of the top three policies for reducing alcohol-related harm.

There is little evidence to support the argument that sports organizations will suffer unduly, particularly when considered in the context of an appropriate and modest increase in an existing liquor tax.

Looking forward, other measures are also necessary reducing the affordability of alcohol (through a minimum unit price or tax), reducing its availability (through reducing outlets and opening hours), and introducing more comprehensive marketing restrictions, especially online .

But the proposed restrictions outlined in the Alcohol Sale and Supply (Minimization of Harm) Amendment Bill are a good start for alcohol reform in Aotearoa. If the government wants to tackle the harms of alcohol, restricting alcohol sponsorship in broadcast sport is an evidence-based policy response to the nation’s most harmful drug.

Tim ChambersSenior Research Fellow in the Health Environment & Infection Research Unit (HEIRU), University of Otago; Joseph BodinTeacher, University of Otago; Matthew HobbsLecturer in Public Health and Co-Director of the GeoSanté Laboratory, University of Canterburyand Nicholas BowdenResearcher, University of Otago.

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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