Sponsorship and commercialisation of football, most certainly in the last 25 years, has contributed to huge changes in attitudes from clubs, fans, leagues and players.
Although it’s undoubtedly helped the sport grow, there are many questions which can be raised around whether it’s all ethical. In particular, sponsorship from entities involved in alcohol sales and gambling raises this question.
Let’s focus on alcohol sponsorship. It’s well known that marketing of alcohol and its consequent exposure effects consumption levels amongst the population.
There’s even evidence, as suggested by a report from the BioMedical Centre (BMC), that alcohol advertisement exposure can lead to the age of adolescents’ alcohol consumption lowering. This can have potentially serious negative consequences on many levels, not only to the person(s) involved, but also to society.
Therefore, this does beg the question of a sort of ‘corporate social responsibility’ of football clubs, leagues and players, much like that of transnational corporations.
Most, if not all, football clubs are depicted as businesses by those involved in the game, therefore, it should be expected that they have a civic duty, and due to the huge influence that top players can have, this duty falls on them too as role models.
Furthermore, football plays such a large part in so many peoples lives, particularly in the UK, so should it be acceptable for those who represent the sport to advertise something which can have such a detrimental effect, especially to younger viewers? It does feel like it has come to the point where money matters more than morals.
Admittedly, it’s not just in football where alcohol advertisement takes place. We see it on TV, on social media, even on advertising boards around towns and cities.
However, with the power that football has upon the population, proven by how fans from all around the world can pull together to support Chapecoense, who tragically lost so many of their players in an infamous plane crash in 2016, or the constant backing over the years for the true justice of the Hillsborough disaster, it’s certainly possible for the sport to help make society better.
It’s not just football clubs who must take responsibility. Organisations must do so too. At the UEFA European Championships in 2012, a study was conducted across eight matches in the tournament to determine the amount of visual alcohol references are made in a game. The result was on average 1.24 visual alcohol references per minute.
Although we may not realise it, there is ‘subliminal’ messaging from this advertisement, you are reminded of the brand and therefore are more likely to buy it. Whether banning advertisement of alcohol in football will ever happen is unclear, but the longer it is left, the harder it will be to stop it.
Gambling advertisement is another issue in football. Looking at the Premier League for the 2017/18 season, nine of the 20 clubs are sponsored by a gambling entity, with a total of £47m combined revenue.
This revenue is vital to these football clubs, it could pay several players wages, or even bring in three or four new players.
However, much like alcohol, the exposure to gambling can have profound consequences on people’s lives, much due to the role model status of those wearing the shirt with a gambling company on it.
Is it morally right for a seven year-old child to walk around wearing a football shirt with a gambling company on the front of it? You would struggle to find somebody who would say yes to that question.
It’s not just on football shirts. In England, any live game you watch on Sky or BT Sport, there is now a short ad-break just before kick off in which live betting odds are displayed.
Even the three leagues below the Premier League are sponsored by the bet sites that accept paypal, a betting company. What sort of message does this spread? Again, similarly to alcohol, it’s subliminal message is to entice more and more people to buy into the company, in this case, gamble.
There is certainly a level of responsibility which all involved in football must take more seriously. The societal consequences of these types of advertisement can be detrimental, and although impossible to measure, it can no longer go ignored.
The question of ‘banning’ advertisement of alcohol and gambling is a difficult one to answer, it’s certainly something which wouldn’t be introduced overnight, but rather a transitional one, much like that with tobacco companies in the early 2000s.
However, with no indication of any questioning over the ethics of these types of advertisement, it certainly suggests we’ll be seeing these brands for a very long time.