January 16, 2020

Alcohol and sport in Australia

sports and alcohol

Australia is a proud sporting nation.

Sport is a central part of our national identity, leisure and entertainment, culture and local communities.1

We are avid spectators and participants in a variety of sports, including swimming, athletics, football, tennis, bushwalking, basketball, golf, cricket, netball, yoga, dancing and surfing.2,3

Participation in sport and exercise has a multitude of health benefits and can reduce the risk of:

  • obesity4,5
  • heart disease6
  • stroke7
  • osteoperosis8
  • and mental health issues.9

It may also encourage young people to abstain from, or delay, drinking alcohol and using other drugs.10

This may be because young people participating in sport are encouraged to pursue healthier lifestyle choices in order to improve their athletic performance. Many children and teenagers who play sport are also engaging in organised leisure time that is supervised by adults, thus restricting time that may otherwise be spent using alcohol and other drugs.

Alcohol and sport – an unhealthy cocktail

While there are many pluses, there is also a problematic relationship between alcohol and sport in Australia.

Specifically: the consumption of alcohol at professional and community sporting events; ubiquitous advertising of alcohol during games; and, alcohol sponsorship of teams and sporting events. There is an inclination for both alcohol and sport to feature in leisure time, with sport perceived by Australians as a ‘legitimate excuse to consume alcohol . . . whether the level of engagement is participation or spectating.’11

Sponsorship of sporting events or teams is a particularly effective way for alcohol companies to market their products to a mass audience.12 Sponsorship creates positive associations between individual players, teams or sporting codes that are respected and extolled by the public, and the products that they endorse.

Studies have shown that people are less conscious and critical of brand promotion that occurs via sponsorship rather than traditional advertising.13

Alcohol companies achieve this effect in a variety of ways: displaying logos in the stadium or on the field or emblazoning them on team uniforms; commercial advertisements during televised or broadcast games; naming rights and exclusive sales rights at games.

How does alcohol advertising and sponsorship work?

Advertising during, or sponsorship of, sport is especially problematic, because it creates an association between sport as a healthy and positive activity, and alcohol; despite the fact that alcohol consumption is linked to cancers,14 stroke,15 dementia, infertility,16 impotence,16 road injury16 and organ damage.16

In general, alcohol advertising normalises drinking and ‘desensitizes the community to the significant harm caused by alcohol use.’17

Child and adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with positive beliefs about alcohol and intention to consume alcohol,18 early initiation of drinking, and greater consumption in existing drinkers.19 While regulations governing alcohol promotion in Australia prohibit TV advertisements explicitly targeting children or being aired outside the adult viewing hours of 8:30pm to 5am, there is an exemption for sport broadcasts.20,21

Alcohol advertising can be played during sport broadcasting on public holidays and weekends.

Additionally, alcohol companies can sponsor sporting codes or teams, thus providing them with a platform to advertise their products through logo and product placement.

Carlton Draught, for example, has been a sponsor of the Australian Football League (AFL) since 1877.

Other official partners of the AFL include South Australian winery Wolf Blass and bourbon and whiskey producer Jim Beam.22 Similarly, the National Rugby League (NRL) is sponsored by Victora Bitter and Bundaberg rum; and Cricket Australia by XXXX Gold beer.23

In addition to sponsoring codes, alcohol companies sponsor teams. A 2019 report found that 16 of 18 men’s AFL clubs accept money from the alcohol industry, with the Western Bulldogs and 2019 Premiers Richmond Tigers being the two notable exceptions.* 24

Industry lobbyists defend alcohol sponsorship and advertising in sport.

Jeremy Griffith, head of corporate affairs at Carlton United Breweries (CUB) claims: “There is no need for new regulation because the industry is well managed and acting responsibly.”25

Both the alcohol industry and governing bodies in professional sport have a vested financial interest in maintaining advertising: the alcohol industry views sport as an opportunity to promote its products and increase sales, while the boards of various sporting codes see advertising as a lucrative revenue source.

AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan notes: “I'm also realistic . . . that by having [the] relationships that we have, money comes into our system.”26

However, the case study of tobacco advertising is instructive: comprehensive bans on advertising have contributed to reduced consumption of cigarettes and tobacco products,27 and professional sporting codes, teams, athletes and events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup (both formerly sponsored by tobacco), have been able to secure ongoing funding from other sources.

Kicking goals

There are some positive developments in regard to alcohol sponsorship and sport.

Baseball Australia has renounced alcohol advertising, and is joined in this stance by politicians, athletes and academics, including Senator Richard Di Natale,28 AFL coach Mick Malthouse and Professor Rob Moodie from the University of Melbourne.

The World Health Organization, Australian Medical Association, Royal Australasian Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons29 and the Public Health Association of Australia29 also support an end to alcohol sponsorship of sport.

The evidence shows that children and adolescents, in particular, are influenced by alcohol advertising to initiate drinking earlier and to drink more heavily.

Alcohol is the most commonly used30,31 and most harmful drug in Australia. According to the Australian drug harms ranking study, it outranks even tobacco and illicit drugs in terms of the physical, psychological and social harm to the individual user and to others.32

Banning alcohol advertising is a vital strategy to reduce young people’s exposure to alcohol and the harms associated with it.

Want to know more?

For more information about alcohol advertising or to submit a complaint, see the Alcohol Advertising Review Board.

Although the mens’ teams do not currently accept sponsorship money from the alcohol industry, as of January 2020, the Western Bulldogs Women’s team is sponsored by Two Birds craft brewery. Further, the Tahbilk Group which owns a winery in central Victoria, is an official supplier/provider of Richmond Tigers men’s team.

  1. Ward T. Sport in Australian national identity : kicking goals: Routledge; 2010.
  2. Australian Sports Commission. Australia's top 20 sports and physical activities revealed Australia: Australian Government; 2019 [cited 2020 January 3].
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4901.0 - Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, Apr 2012 Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2012 [cited 2020 January 3].
  4. Kelley GA, Kelley KS, Pate RR. Exercise and BMI z-score in Overweight and Obese Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine. 2017(2):108.
  5. Carnaval Pereira da Rocha PE, Schuindt da Silva V, Bastos Camacho LA, Godoi Vasconcelos AG. Effects of long-term resistance training on obesity indicators: a systematic review. / Efeitos de longo prazo do treinamento resistido nos indicadores de obesidade: uma revisão sistemática. Brazilian Journal of Kineanthropometry & Human Performance. 2015;17(5):621-34.
  6. Kraus WE, Powell KE, Haskell WL, Janz KF, Campbell WW, Jakicic JM, et al. Physical Activity, All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality, and Cardiovascular Disease. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(6):1270-81.
  7. Lemes ÍR, Turi-Lynch BC, Cavero-Redondo I, Linares SN, Monteiro HL. Aerobic training reduces blood pressure and waist circumference and increases HDL-c in metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension. 2018;12(8):580-8.
  8. Varahra A, Rodrigues IB, MacDermid JC, Bryant D, Birmingham T. Exercise to improve functional outcomes in persons with osteoporosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Osteoporosis International: A Journal Established As Result Of Cooperation Between The European Foundation For Osteoporosis And The National Osteoporosis Foundation Of The USA. 2018;29(2):265-86.
  9. Pemberton R, Fuller Tyszkiewicz MD. Factors contributing to depressive mood states in everyday life: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2016;200:103-10.
  10. Kristjansson AL, Sigfusdottir ID, Thorlindsson T, Mann MJ, Sigfusson J, Allegrante JP. Population trends in smoking, alcohol use and primary prevention variables among adolescents in Iceland, 1997-2014. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2016(4):645.
  11. Pettigrew S. Australians and Their Leisure Time. ACR Asia-Pacific Advances. 2002.
  12. Westberg K, Stavros C, Smith ACT, Munro G, Argus K. An examination of how alcohol brands use sport to engage consumers on social media. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2018;37(1):28-35.
  13. Zerhouni O, Bègue L, O'Brien KS. How alcohol advertising and sponsorship works: Effects through indirect measures. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2019;38(4):391-8.
  14. Winstanley MH, Pratt IS, Chapman K, Griffin HJ, Croager EJ, Olver IN, et al. Alcohol and cancer: a position statement from Cancer Council Australia. Medical Journal of Australia. 2011;194(9):479-82.
  15. Millwood IY, Walters RG, Mei XW, Guo Y, Yang L, Bian Z, et al. Conventional and genetic evidence on alcohol and vascular disease aetiology: a prospective study of 500 000 men and women in China. The Lancet. 2019;393(10183):1831-42.
  16. Australian Government Department of Health. What are the effects of alcohol? Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health; 2019 [updated 29 October 2019; cited 2020 January 3].
  17. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. The impact of alcohol advertising on kids ACT, Australia: Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education; 2019 [cited 2020 January 2].
  18. Fleming K, Thorson E, Atkin CK. Alcohol Advertising Exposure and Perceptions: Links with Alcohol Expectancies and Intentions to Drink or Drinking in Underaged Youth and Young Adults. Journal of health communication. 2004;9(1):3-29.
  19. Carr S, O'Brien KS, Ferris J, Room R, Livingston M, Vandenberg B, et al. Child and adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising in Australia's major televised sports. Drug & Alcohol Review. 2016;35(4):406-11.

20. O’Brien KS, Carr S, Ferris J, Room R, Miller P, Livingston M, et al. Alcohol advertising in sport and non-sport TV in Australia, during children’s viewing times. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(8):e0134889.

21. Free TV Australia. Commercial television industry code of practice 2020 [cited 2020 January 8].

22. Australian Football League. AFL Partners Australia: Australian Football League; 2019 [cited 2020 January 2].

23. Cricket Australia. Commercial Partners of Cricket Australia Australia: Cricket Australia; 2020 [cited 2020 January 2].

24. Vidler A-C, Sartori A. Richmond Tigers on top when it comes to sponsorship: drinktank, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education 2019 [cited 2020 January 2].

25. Rosie Baker. Alcohol brands defend sports sponsorship. AdNews. 2014.

26. Cherny D. AFL chief Gillon McLachlan defends gambling relationships. The Age. 2016.

27. Blecher E. The impact of tobacco advertising bans on consumption in developing countries. Journal of Health Economics. 2008;27(4):930-42.

28. Cooper A. Call to ban alcohol ads in TV sports. The Age. 2013.

29. End Alcohol Advertising in Sport. Official Supporting Partners Australia: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education,; 2019 [cited 2020 January 3].

30. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Canberra: AIHW; 2017.

31. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Canberra: AIHW; 2019.

32. Bonomo Y, Norman A, Biondo S, Bruno R, Daglish M, Dawe S, et al. The Australian drug harms ranking study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2019;33(7):759-68.

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