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Mongan, Deirdre (2016) Regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 56, Winter 2016, pp. 4-5.

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In 2013 the Irish government established a working group to examine the regulation of sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events. The working group reported its findings in December 2014.1


Comprised of representatives from several government departments, the working group was asked to consider the value, evidence, feasibility and implications (including the public health consequences for children and young people and the financial impact on sporting organisations) of regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events’ and ‘to consider alternative sources of funding for sporting organisations to replace potential lost revenue arising from any such regulation’. Following an initial analysis of the relevant available information and identifying information gaps, the group formulated a set of questions with a view to gathering evidence to facilitate a complete understanding of the issue. These questions were sent to key stakeholders. Main findings of the group were as follows.


Impact of sports sponsorship on alcohol consumption

Sports sponsorship is usually part of an integrated marketing approach, making it difficult to untangle the specific impacts each marketing activity has and to draw conclusions about the potential impact of restrictions on alcohol sponsorship of sports events. It is generally accepted that the share prices of companies react positively to sports sponsorship, while customers operate on the principle that if a brand is good enough to back a much-loved sport, then it’s good enough for them.


There is high-quality international evidence demonstrating a link between general marketing and alcohol consumption. A systematic review of 13 longitudinal studies of 38,000 young people aged 10–21 years concluded that ‘alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol and to drink more if they are already using alcohol’.2 The alcohol industry disputes the link between marketing and increased consumption, claiming that marketing simply acts as a brand differentiator.


The evidence with regard to links between sports sponsorship and alcohol consumption is limited. Research from Australia and New Zealand has shown that sportspeople receiving alcohol industry sponsorship at a team or club level are more likely to be hazardous drinkers. The working group acknowledges that there is a lack of Irish research measuring the impact of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies, and it is not clear to what extent social norms or accepted cultural behaviour in Irish society influence drinking behaviour, compared to the alcohol industry.


Given the lack of evidence with regard to impact, the working group looked at what other countries had done regarding alcohol sponsorship of sport. In France the Loi Evin has imposed a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events. This law made it impossible for American brewer Anheuser-Busch to sponsor the 1998 FIFA Football World Cup in France despite heavy lobbying of the French government. There has been a 20 per cent decline in alcohol consumption in France since the law came into effect in 1990 but this downward trend began in the 1960s. It is not clear how much of the decrease can be attributed to the Loi Evin as opposed to other factors.


Value of alcohol sponsorship to sporting organisations

A 2011 report for the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland estimated that the value of sports sponsorship was €35 million; this was regarded as a conservative figure.3 The value of alcohol sponsorship is largely invested in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), FAI (Football Association of Ireland) and IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union). The major sporting organisations which presented submissions to the working group stated that the loss of the funding through sports sponsorship would have a detrimental impact on local clubs and on their capacity to offer development programmes for young people. The FAI and the IRFU expressed concerns that additional restrictions could jeopardise their chances of participating in international tournaments. There were alternative views that restrictions might not harm sporting organisations; it was noted that the Loi Evin had not prevented France from hosting both soccer and rugby World Cups.


Alternative sources of sponsorship for the sports sector

Conflicting views were given regarding alternative sources of sponsorship. While some submissions claimed that alcohol sponsorship could be gradually replaced by revenue from other commercial companies, it was also stated that even if alternative sponsors could be found, these organisations would be unlikely to pay the premium price that alcohol sponsors do, which would lead to a decrease in sponsorship revenue.


The experience of the GAA in securing sponsorship unrelated to alcohol companies was cited as an example that alternative sponsors can be found. The Australian government’s willingness to replace alcohol sponsorship with state funding was also mentioned: it had committed to providing A$25 million over four years for a ‘community sponsorship fund’ as an alternative for sporting and cultural organisations. The working group concluded it was not possible to answer this question, but noted that if the current economic recovery continues, other commercial sources of revenue might become available.


Options for regulation which fall short of a ban

The report examines the features of successful regulatory schemes, namely volume restrictions, content restrictions and an effective system of regulation.

  • Imposing volume restrictions on alcohol marketing can be successful if the proposed bans are not merely symbolic but contribute substantially to the total volume of alcohol advertising to which adolescents are exposed, and if no significant substitution effects arise such as price reductions or marketing shifts to other media.
  • Limiting exposure to attractive advertisements by adjusting their content can be an important restriction. In France advertisements can only contain product information, such as the name of the product, percentage alcohol by volume, origin, name and address of manufacturer, and consumption mode of the product.
  • Regulation needs a clear legislative framework. Effective regulation requires pre-screening of advertisements, a complaints system, effective sanctions, and an independent monitoring system that routinely monitors the content and volume of alcohol marketing.



The working group could not reach clear evidence-based conclusions on the actual costs and benefits of further regulation of alcohol sponsorship of sporting events. It concluded that the most useful approach would be to identify a number of options ranging from maintaining the status quo to banning sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events, which could be taken, and seek to elaborate the likely advantages and disadvantages of each approach, to inform the government’s consideration of the matter. (Deirdre Mongan)



1 Department of the Taoiseach (2014) Report of the working group on regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events. Working_Group_on_Regulating_Sponsorship_by_Alcohol_Companies_of_Major_Sporting_Events.pdf

2 European Health and Alcohol Forum (2009) Does marketing communication impact on the volume and patterns of consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially by young people? – a review of longitudinal studies.

3 Foley A (2011) The contribution of the drinks industry to tourism, festivals and sport. Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.

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