It was revealed last month that three posts on Twitter by Betfred, which featured global boxing phenomenon Anthony Joshua, had been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following an investigation by the regulator.

This decision was made on the basis that Joshua's appearance meant that the advert was likely to strongly appeal to under-18s.

Indeed, these posts were highlighted for investigation through the utilisation of AI technology, which looked for online adverts that could contravene the ASA's rules. 

This decision was followed by another banned tweet by Sky Bet featuring Gary Neville.

The tweet in question was posted on 9 February 2023 and included a video from The Overlap podcast, whereby the former Manchester United player talked about which side may be crowned Premier League champions.

However, Sky Bet's logo was featured during the video, and the words 'Brought to you by Sky Bet' appeared at its conclusion.

The ASA determined that Gary Neville was indeed 'likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s'; therefore, the post breached advertising rules. 

The following article by our Commercial team will discuss the ASA and several of its decisions before providing details on the sentiment against gambling advertisements that is spreading throughout the footballing world. 

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New ASA rules strengthen protections for under-18s in gambling and lottery advertising

The ASA is the UK's independent regulator of media advertising and is tasked with ensuring that advertisements across media in the region comply with the Advertising Codes, which in turn set out the rules to be followed by advertisers, agencies, and media owners.

On 1 October 2022, new rules came into play which strengthened the protections for under-18s against gambling and lottery advertising.

Previously, adverts relating to such activities were not required to be 'of particular appeal' to children.

Under the new rules, however, ads would be non-compliant if they are instead found to be 'likely to appeal strongly' to under-18s, such as through the use of imagery, themes or characters, despite how adults may view such media.

This amendment is part of a wider theme of scrutiny of encouraging gambling amongst under-18s, which includes consideration of whether in-app purchases in games aimed at children may be encouraging repeat-buying and, therefore, could trigger a gambling cycle as an impressionable age.

The ASA itself noted that the 1 October 2022 rule change would 'significantly impact gambling advertisers looking to promote their brands using prominent sports people and specifically pointed out that adverts would be unable to use not only 'topflight footballers and footballers with a considerable following among under-18 on social media', but, more broadly, 'all sportspeople well-known to under-18s, including sportspeople with a considerable volume of under-18 followers on social media'.

Indeed, the rules' accompanying guidance set out distinct categories of low, medium and high-risk content, covering the point that football inherently appeals to children. 

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ASA's AI-powered ad monitoring

Following the above rule change, the ASA has provided various decisions in this area, aided by technology known as the 'Active Ad Monitoring system', which uses AI to 'proactively search' for adverts online, potentially infringing the rules.

Ads that have fallen foul of the regulations thus far include those featuring not just then-Premier League players Philippe Coutinho and Jesse Lingard but also those including non-UK footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. 

However, the appearance of a footballing personality does not automatically result in a violation.

For example, adverts that featured Peter Crouch and Micah Richards were not deemed strongly appealing to under-18s due to the length of time they had been retired from professional football and the fact that their media profiles were primarily adult-orientated. 

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Growing opposition to gambling ads in football

This tougher stance by the ASA on gambling ads can be viewed as part of a wider trend away from such advertising in football more broadly.

For example, an April 2023 survey of over 1,000 adults in the UK found that 64.3% of respondents believed that there are too many gambling ads aired during football games shown on television.

Almost 11,000 gambling messages were broadcast throughout the Premier League's opening weekend earlier this year across numerous media channels. 

However, this sentiment against gambling advertisements has not only been expressed by fans.

Clubs themselves have joined this movement, with AFC Wimbledon announcing their partnership last month with The Big Step campaign, which is part of Gambling with Lives, a charity established by families impacted by gambling-related suicide.

Moreover, arguably, the most significant step made against gambling advertising in football came in April 2023, when the Premier League confirmed that member clubs had agreed to remove gambling sponsorship from the front of their matchday jerseys.

This transpired after a consultation between the League, its clubs and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with the change set to take place from the end of the 2025/26 season.

Following this, in July 2023, Amanda Pritchard, CEO of NHS England, encouraged the gambling industry and football clubs to strongly consider their responsibilities and pointed out that shirt sponsorship agreements result in children being fed the message that gambling is OK.

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Football clubs and changing gambling sponsorship

Overall, the ASA's tougher approach to gambling adverts in football is part of a wider scrutiny of such advertising in the sport.

A future combination of action by the ASA, campaigning, and the proposed ban of front-of-matchday shirt gambling sponsors means that it will be interesting to see how the gambling industry's historically strong influence in football plays out.

Football clubs and changing gambling sponsorship

With eight premier league clubs currently featuring front-of-shirt betting sponsorship, there are several considerations which football clubs will need to consider, such as:

  • Does the sponsorship agreement contain adequate termination rights - those clubs who feature front-of-shirt gambling sponsors will need to review such agreements to ensure that they have a conclusive way out of the contractual relationship as a result of changes to the legal and regulatory position. If there are not adequate termination rights, the parties may have to mutually negotiate and agree to terminate the agreement early, which may result in either party having to make compensatory payments.
  • Could the sponsorship agreements be varied to grant alternative rights – clubs with existing sponsorship agreements in place could explore the option of varying the rights granted under the agreement so that the sponsor is placed in alternative locations such as training kits and the sleeves shirt as opposed to the front of the shirt and more generally, advertisements outside of the match day and training kits. This may include having to review and vary any other sponsorship agreements the club has in place. We expect clubs and gambling companies to work together to produce creative substitutes to deal with this issue.
  • Seek alternative sponsorship – with the recent growth of alternative industries such as technology, clubs could look for alternative front-of-shirt sponsorship options, proving to be as lucrative as gambling sponsorship. A clear example was Manchester United's recent announcement of its multi-year front-of-shirt sponsorship agreement with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.'s product, Snapdragon.

It appears that the major issue clubs face will be bridging the gap left by the removal of the revenue created by gambling sponsorship, which is likely to add to the financial strain already faced by many clubs. 

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If you would like to discuss any of the points in this article, please get in contact with our Commercial Solicitors, who would be happy to assist.