Soccer matchday programmes exposing children to gambling, study finds

Soccer clubs and matchday programme producers must be more aware of the gambling marketing content young fans are exposed to, a University of East London researcher has urged.

Programmes for each team in the English Premier League and Championship across consecutive matchday weekends in October 2018, made available to 1,269,494 match-going fans, were analysed for a new study in the Journal of Gambling Studies. 

Led by Dr Steve Sharman from the School of Psychology at the University of East London, in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Warwick, the study found that gambling marketing was frequently evident in sections of matchday programmes aimed at children.

“There was gambling exposure in nearly 60% of child-specific programme sections, in this data collected before the ASA’s Protecting Children and Young People regulatory guidance on gambling advertising came into force,” Dr Sharman said.

The study sought to measure exposure to gambling and alcohol marketing and responsible gambling messages within matchday programmes. It concluded that the average match-going fan is exposed to almost 40 gambling brand placements and around 2.5 gambling adverts through the matchday programme alone.

Of the 44 programmes included in the study, 39 had a dedicated children’s section. Incidental gambling exposure, which comes predominantly in the form of pictures of players in a team shirt sponsored by a gambling company, was present in 59 per cent of the parts of programmes dedicated to young people, significantly higher than the 7.7 per cent for alcohol marketing.

According to Dr Sharman, while the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV adverts may reduce the number of actual adverts during live sport, soccer fans are still exposed to a variety of gambling marketing through other channels.

With the presence of gambling marketing in the sections of programmes developed for children, policymakers and legislators must be aware of the multitude of avenues through which exposure to gambling marketing can happen, he urged.

Also, with almost 60 per cent of teams across England’s top two soccer divisions having gambling brands as their shirt sponsors for the 2018-19 season, shirt sponsorship could be one factor contributing to 78 per cent of a sample of British children reporting in a recent study that betting is now a normal part of sport.

In December 2018, the remote gambling association voluntarily agreed to a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on gambling advertising during live sport, covering the period five minutes before kick-off to five minutes after full-time.

“While a huge part of the discussion is currently centred around TV gambling advertising, the average soccer fan could be exposed to significant amounts of gambling marketing through other channels,” said Dr Philip Newall, University of Warwick.

A recent study by Britain’s biggest gambling charity GambleAware found that one in eight teenage boys are regular gamblers with some admitting they are addicted, while England international Andros Townsend, who plays soccer for English Premier League team Crystal Palace, has spoken publicly about the night he lost £46,000 gambling in bed.