Sports sponsorships & alcohol: what is the relationship?

Hockey NSW announced this week that it would grant Hello Sunday Morning full sponsorship rights for the coming hockey season. That means we’ll become very visible to club hockey fans and players, and to casual viewers of the matches on digital TV well into next year. We’re proud to align ourselves with the Hockey NSW brand, given our shared values & goals.

We’re aware that some organisations might want to align themselves with our name as a bit of virtue-signalling whilst simultaneously taking money from alcohol manufacturers, like casinos donating to gambling counselling services. As it turns out, Hockey NSW does not accept sponsorships from alcohol groups, so we aren’t being used as a fig-leaf. They promote strong community connections and healthy life-choices, very similar to our own stance.

We know that drinking behaviours and attitudes are strongly influenced by the social situation in which alcohol is consumed. There’s good evidence that young people who watch televised sport are exposed to extensive alcohol advertising, and that those young people who are sports fans drink more alcohol and experience more alcohol-related problems. Consumption of alcohol is typically associated with sport as an important component of post-game celebrations and being part of the team. Men in particular are more likely to drink excessively when socialising with members of their sporting team than with other groups of friends. 

Hello Sunday Morning does not take a hardline view on alcohol consumption – we don’t advocate abstinence for all. Instead, we believe that people should consciously develop the relationship with alcohol that works best for them. In many cases that can mean abstinence, but it can also mean reduction and moderation to a lower level, or maintenance at a set level. The important thing is that the relationship is mindful, we drink the amount that we believe is beneficial to us at a frequency that suits us. Our drinking should not be dictated by unthinking habit, nor pushed on us by societal pressures. 

But back to sports … the Hockey NSW connection got us thinking about the infiltration of the drinking culture into professional sports in Australia. In a few weeks’ time we’ll have two nation-stopping events: the Australian Rules and Rugby League Grand Finals on successive weekends. The TV advertising opportunities at these events are colossal, and only companies with the deepest pockets can hope for a piece of the advertising action. For alcohol manufacturers there are very few more attractive audiences than the blokey Grand Finals followers, many of whom will be watching the match with a beer in hand and several more waiting in the fridge. It’s a major family viewing event, too, so a large proportion of the audience will be children, watching with their parents.

FARE (the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) have published an analysis of the alcohol advertising run during the TV coverage of the 2018 season Grand Finals, and what they found was startling. The researchers counted each new occasion an alcohol brand or alcohol-sponsored message appeared on the TV screen over the course of the match, including advert breaks and the 10 minutes of coverage before and after the games. They found alcohol advertising appeared an average of seven times every 10 minutes for AFL viewers, and 29 times every 10 minutes for NRL viewers. That’s 376 instances of alcohol advertising during the broadcast of the NRL Grand Final, and 120 instances of alcohol advertising during the AFL Grand Final coverage.

By contrast, the analysis found there were only 11 appearances during the NRL Grand Final, of a New South Wales Government advertisement warning of the dangers of drink driving.

FARE’s report concluded that ‘professional sport is currently being used as a highly effective conduit for mass-population alcohol marketing during children’s viewing hours.’

As mentioned earlier, Hello Sunday Morning avoids taking a purist view on most things, including the abstinence-versus-moderation debate, but we can’t help thinking that there’s something wrong with this picture!


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  • Have doing a lot of research lately on alcohol misuse thanx to Annie Grace and Craig Beck. I feel a lot of problem drinking comes from clever marketing to begin with. Tobacco adds eventually got banned so why not booze? It’s just that it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s seen as something wrong if ur not drinking. This culture needs to change

    By Virginia
    September 26, 2019
    • The marketing is indeed very clever…and it is based predominantly on very subtle “below the line” cues in their advertising. The marketeers have steered their categories and brands towards ‘sophistication’ and ‘discovery’ and the advertising has reflected this. The whole market has veered towards “premium”, “craft” and “artisan” making consumers feel that they are choosing something exclusive (and paying for it!!) when really what they are buying is the same product, repackaged, rebranded and relaunched. In terms of sport sponsorship here in the UK the alcohol brands have been marginalised by online sports betting companies which actually plays to their campaigns that the brands are not mass market products and consumers select them (ergo they are very clever for making this choice and strengthening brand loyalty or at least driving category growth….gin is a perfect example of this – 5 years ago gin was only drank by your granny at Christmas, now supermarkets here are selling bottles upwards of £50 and gin is rivalling vodka as the number 1 spirit).

      The consumer data and insight that the big drinks companies hold (to target brands and campaigns) is highly sophisticated which in effect allows the to stay ahead of Government legislation and ad hoc “bans” (such as the example given of NSW hockey or indeed a blanket ban of alcohol advertising in a whole country such as France).

      By Will Gordon
      August 13, 2020
  • It’s not imminent, but surely it’s only a matter of time before alcohol advertising goes the same way as cigarette advertising. Bring it on. There will of course be the usual hue and cry about money leaving the game, how are we going to replace it, grass roots will be the ones to suffer…but never forget they said that when tobacco advertising was banned. Funnily enough, sport survived.

    By PR
    October 3, 2019
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