Alcohol sponsors dominated close to a fifth of the entire broadcast of the NRL grand final and around 20 minutes per AFL semi-final, according to new research, Alcohol Advertising in Televised Broadcasts of Australian Football Finals Series, released today by Cancer Council Australia into the pervasiveness of alcohol advertising in live sport.
"It's a sad day for Australian sport when live broadcasts become one long alcohol ad with some footy spliced in between," said Ms Sondra Davoren, senior policy adviser for Cancer Council Victoria.
"This research highlights how embedded alcohol marketing is in live football and rugby league broadcasts. Only 5% of the marketing identified was commercials in breaks, while 95% of the marketing was inserted within the live game such as fixed stadium signage, electronic banners, live announcements, pop-ups on scores, and logos on players' uniforms," said Ms Davoren.
"What is concerning about the saturation of alcohol promotion in sport is the number of children watching live sport. There is a large body of evidence which shows that being exposed to alcohol marketing at an early age can shape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours towards drinking. We know the more a child is exposed to alcohol marketing, the earlier they will initiate drinking, and will drink more in the long term."
Each year more than 1500 Australians are conservatively estimated to die from cancers directly caused by alcohol – more than the number who die of melanoma. The more people drink, the higher the risk of cancer. Research shows many of those most at risk develop their long-term patterns of drinking behaviour at a young age, when they are most susceptible to advertising that sends the wrong message about the harms of drinking.
"The dominance of integrated alcohol marketing (such as on field signage, pop-ups, voiceovers) is of particular concern because exposure to advertising that is integrated into program content – particularly program content which is emotionally engaging – is more influential in forming attitudes and brand connections than stand-alone commercials," said Ms Davoren.
The 2012 AFL and NRL grand finals attracted 3.196 million and 2.424 million viewers respectively. Both broadcasts are extremely popular with children; the AFL grand final for example, is often in the top 5 most watched television programs for children. The NRL grand final broadcast was the second highest rated program with children under 12, in the period 30 September – 20 October 2013.
Although alcohol consumption rates have levelled out, risky drinking in young people continues to rise, as the age of first drink continues to fall. Childhood and adolescence are critical times for brain development, and the brain is more susceptible to alcohol-induced damage during these times; at the same time, children are particularly vulnerable to advertising messages, especially integrated advertising.
The research shows how vital it is to introduce better regulation of alcohol advertising, including in sports. As a first step, the exemption in the Commercial Television Industry code of practice, which allows alcohol advertising during live sports broadcasts, needs to be removed.
The National Preventative Health Taskforce has recommended that alcohol sponsorship should be phased out of sport.
"While we've seen some of the smaller codes take up Australian National Preventative Health Agency's offer to replace alcohol sponsorship, it's time for the major codes to get on board. We've already seen moves from Ireland, the UK, South Africa and France to make steps to phase out alcohol sponsorship in the sporting arena. It's time Australia started kicking goals too," said Ms Davoren.
The research, Alcohol Advertising in Televised Broadcasts of Australian Football Finals Series, which was commissioned by Cancer Council Australia was undertaken by the Centre for Health Initiatives at Wollongong University. Six finals series matches (three from NRL and three from the AFL including both Grand Finals) were coded for advertising frequencies or rates (i.e. alcohol ads/hour) as well as proportions of advertising (alcohol ads as a % of total advertisements) and total exposure time for alcohol marketing/alcohol brand messages.