Football programmes expose children to gambling

Special programme sections aimed at youngsters among the worst 'offenders', according to study

The relationship between gambling and football has been much in the news in recent days after it came to light that the Football Association has a deal in place that allows seven betting companies to stream FA Cup matches live to their customers.

The seven gambling websites – Bet365, Betfair, Coral, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Unibet – acquired the rights via the IMG agency, who agreed a deal with the FA. The deal actually started last season.

In the third round of the cup earlier this month, 23 matches (those that did not kick off at 15:01 on Saturday) were screened on the Bet365 app. The games were available to those who placed a bet or made a deposit in their account in the 24 hours before kick-off.

In July 2017, the FA announced it was cutting its ties with gambling firms, but the deal with IMG was made in January 2017, so is still in place.The Government is said to be very unhappy about the arrangement.

Meanwhile, on a related topic, 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 last October, 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% of the parts of programmes dedicated to young people, significantly higher than the 7.7% 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 suggested. 

Also, with almost 60% of teams across England’s top two soccer divisions having gambling brands as their shirt sponsors, shirt sponsorship could be one factor contributing to 78% 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 of the 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 Crystal Palace and England international Andros Townsend has spoken publicly about the night he lost £46,000 gambling while still in bed.

A Birmingham City programme in which the gambling logo is one of the answers in the ‘spot the difference’ game 
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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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