Alcohol has been synonymous with the sporting industry for decades and, along with the gambling industry, has taken over from the tobacco industry as one of the most heavily criticised forms of advertising in the UK.
Sponsorship of footballers’ shirts by alcohol companies has dwindled in recent years, with the 2017/18 season being the first time in Premier League history where there will be no alcohol company shirt sponsors for any Premier League club.
Beer partnerships are still part of the fabric of English football, however, with the FA currently maintaining commercial agreements with alcoholic drinks companies Carling, Budweiser and Carlsberg. Euro 2016, meanwhile, drew criticism amid claims by charity Alcohol Concern that football supporters watching England and Wales matches during the group stages were subjected to alcohol marketing almost once a minute during game play.
Rules on alcohol advertising
UK advertising regulation for alcohol is among the strictest in the world. A code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority stipulates that alcohol ads must not be directed at people under 18 or contain anything likely to appeal to them by reflecting youth culture.
Anyone that features in an alcohol ad must be 25 years of age or over, and look it. Consumption of alcohol must not be linked to increased popularity, sexual success, confidence, sporting achievements or mental performance. Anything which portrays drinking alcohol as a challenge or as having therapeutic qualities is banned, as is anything that promotes binge drinking or suggests that alcohol can solve your problems.
The drinks industry funded body, the Portman Group, regulates all other forms of drinks producer marketing including naming, packaging, and promotion of alcoholic drinks. The latest edition of the Portman Code states that: ‘Prior to sponsoring an event, team or activity, drinks companies must use their reasonable endeavours to obtain data on the expected participants, audience or spectator profile to ensure that at least the aggregate of 75% are aged over 18.’
Consumption at sporting grounds
As many teams and competitions receive revenue through alcoholic sponsorship it is reasonable to believe that alcohol may be consumed at sporting grounds; this is the case but there are still limitations on where this can be consumed under the Sporting Events (Control Of Alcohol Etc) Act 1985.
For example, at FA football grounds up and down the country you can consume alcohol in the concourse areas of the ground but drinking alcohol within view of the playing area is banned during matches and during the restricted period (15 minutes before the start of the event to 15 minutes after the end of the event). Sometimes fans visiting the ground in support of the away team will not be provided with alcohol; this is at the discretion of the home club.
For certain competitions, for example the UEFA Champions League, there is a complete blanket ban on any alcohol consumption inside any ground hosting a UEFA Champions League match.
Local police will also sometimes impose sanctions in relation to alcohol consumption in the stadiums and surrounding areas on match day.
Is there likely to be ban on advertising alcohol at sporting fixtures?
Many health groups – including the British Medical Association – have called for a blanket ban on alcoholic advertising in the sporting industry, as, they claim, this form of advertising promotes binge drinking within the UK and brings with it associated health problems.
Other countries have gone down a restrictive route, with France, for example, having a blanket ban on alcohol-related sponsorship of cultural or sport events; all alcohol commercials must also contain a warning message saying the abuse of alcohol consumption is dangerous for health.
However, the UK’s advertising industry claims such a ban would cost millions, and, given that the latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the proportion of adults who say they drink alcohol is at the lowest level on record, a complete ban on alcohol advertising around sport is currently unlikely.