With less than a week to go in the Australian Open, it is timely to investigate the public health implications of the event’s sponsorship arrangements.
Ainslie Sartori, a public health nutritionist and Research Associate at the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia, reports that the promotion of alcohol and gambling is a big part of the game – a particular concern given the event’s growing focus on children and young people.
Ainslie Sartori writes:
Sponsorship of big sporting events such as the Australian Open gives brands an opportunity to expose adults and children to their brand and encourage lifelong brand loyalty.
The Australian Open brings in massive TV audience numbers, with the 2017 epic five-set final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal being the highest TV ratings for the men’s final in the last 10 years, with 4.4 million Australians watching the final at its peak, and Channel Seven winning the ratings that night for the 16-39 year old demographic.
The total tournament attendance was 728,763.
Tennis Australia has been heavily promoting the tournament to children and young people this year, with Disney now on board as a major sponsor.
At the Australian Open Ballpark there is a mini-theme park on site featuring play zones, and there are Star Wars and Disney Princess themed attractions.
Focus on children and youth
While it is good to see Tennis Australia encouraging children and young people to attend the tennis and get involved, it is hard to reconcile this with the alcohol and other unhealthy commodity sponsorship that still exists.
Why worry about children and young people being exposed to marketing of junk food, alcohol and gambling?
We know that exposure to food marketing is linked to adolescents’ food choices and poor eating behaviours, and that there is a significant association between youth exposure to alcohol marketing and subsequent drinking behaviour.
Studies have shown a strong correlation between gambling/gambling intention and response to gambling sponsorship, and that exposure to gambling promotions during televised sport may encourage gambling intentions, among both adults and children.
Taking a look at the Australian Open sponsorship list, it is encouraging to see 23 of the 29 sponsors are not connected with the alcohol, junk food or gambling industries; these sponsors include car manufacturers, electronics, telecommunications companies, airlines and banks, to name a few.
Alcohol features strongly
Disappointingly, however, alcohol still features strongly, with Jacobs Creek, Aperol Spritz, Coopers and Canadian Club all being major sponsors.
Coopers, in the second year of a five-year sponsorship deal, is the exclusive beer supplier at the Australian Open, as well as for the lead-in tournaments held in four other Australian cities. The Australian Open deal with Coopers includes pourage rights at all other sporting and entertainment events at Melbourne Park.
From a marketing perspective, Coopers seems delighted with its partnership with Tennis Australia, with director Cam Pearce saying: “For us it was a great opportunity to make people more aware of Coopers, especially in the Victorian market, but also in Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart and Perth through the associated lead-in tournaments. With something like a million people coming through the Australian Open and 100,000 in Brisbane and so on, we’re reaching a lot of people.”
The Coopers summer marketing campaign is centred on its Australian Open sponsorship, with bus stop ads featuring the image of a beer bottle pouring tennis balls and the special edition Coopers Legends Summer Lager features a commemorative can, highlighting its partnership with Tennis Australia.
Coopers social media campaign includes promoting “Coopers Saturday” at the Australian Open, featuring live acts, appealing to the youth and young adult market.
As well as the four alcohol sponsors, William Hill is the official gambling partner of the Australian Open. As part its new campaign, William Hill promotes that “fast betting is on its way to the Australian Open”, with the tagline “faster easier betting on the Open”.
It is disappointing to see gambling still part of the Australian Open, particularly given William Hill’s turnover for “in-play” gambling grew 680 percent after partnering with the Australian Open in 2016 in a world first for tennis.
Tennis Australia did the right thing by removing the courtside William Hill ads in 2017, but by still having a gambling sponsor at all, it is exposing both adults and children to gambling promotions, which studies have shown may encourage a greater intention to bet on live sports and gamble.
It is encouraging to see none of the major junk food and soft drink companies featuring on the Australian Open partnership list.
Look for healthy sponsorship
With the announcement at the end of 2017 that Emirates will be cutting ties with many of the Australian sports events that it previously sponsored, we would encourage sporting codes, clubs and governing bodies to look to healthy forms of sponsorship.
Lexus was quick to take over from Emirates as sponsor of the Melbourne Cup. The recent announcement that Cricket Australia is ending its 25 year partnership with Milo as the sponsor of its junior programs, provides another opportunity for another large sporting organisation to choose their next sponsor wisely.
Tennis Australia’s partnerships with 23 sponsors not connected with alcohol, junk food and gambling demonstrates that it can be done, but there still is room to improve.
Now is the time for all sporting codes, clubs and governing bodies to really step up and lead the Australian sporting sponsorship field by not associating with unhealthy sponsors.
• Ainslie Sartori is a public health nutritionist and Research Associate at the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia. Follow on Twitter: @ainsliesartori