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‘Alcohol advertising restrictions are already working’: TV and alcohol execs

Despite the social concerns around alcohol consumption and live sporting events, broadcasters and sports organisers need the advertising revenue, a panel of industry participants told the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit today in Sydney.

Clare Gill,  Fergus Taylor, Jeremy Loeliger, Michael Thorn and Simon Canning at the at Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit

The industry also argued declining underage drinking rates indicate the existing broadcasting restrictions are working.

“It is already heavily restricted, the question is should it be further restricted and when you look at the facts, the answer is ‘no’,” stated Fergus Taylor, the executive director of Alcohol Beverages Australia, who went on to point out underage drinking has declined over the past decade while marketing spend has substantially increased.

The case for tightening restrictions was made by Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), citing the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare household drug survey, which found 70% of those surveyed wanted to see alcohol advertising banned before the current 9pm threshold.

“Alcohol is Australia’s most toxic drug, responsible for five and half thousand deaths annually, nearly 160,000 hospitalisations and nearly a million kids are affected each year by the drinking of an adult,” Thorn stated.

While alcohol industry spokesman Taylor sees there being no case for further restrictions, the sports bodies themselves need the money from alcohol advertising, Jeremy Loeliger, the general manager of Australia’s National Basketball League contended.

“Sustainability for us is absolutely fundamental and advertising and sponsorship is the lifeblood of professional sport. I’d love to be in the position of being able to pick and choose who’s funding us, but we’re not in that position.”

“Whether people consume alcohol is based upon price, accessibility and promotion,” Loelinger continued. “Promotion is only one of the three facets which gives any return to sports bodies.”

Director of regulatory affairs for Nine Entertainment, Clare Gill, agreed alcohol advertising regulation is working.

“We think the broadcasting industry has struck the right balance, we don’t think there is a public policy failure and we point  to the fact we had one complaint about about alcohol advertising not in sport and the industry body only had three.”

Gill contrasted the sector’s alcohol advertising practices with that of sports gambling which has attracted the ire of legislators in recent times.

“I don’t think the TV industry covered itself with glory with gambling in relationship to the Tom Waterhouse issue with live odds,” she said.

While the panel differed on their perspectives all but FARE’s Thorn agreed alcohol advertising is not going to go away – although it will evolve.

Nine’s Gill argued the playing field needs to be levelled between media platforms while Alcohol Beverages Australia’s Fergus believes the industry needs to be proactive in staying ahead of community expectations of sports advertising.

Unsurprisingly FARE’s Thorn proposed the most radical changes for alcohol sports advertising including extending the ban to sports broadcast airing before 8:30pm and replacing sports advertising with strong public health campaigns, the last one being run in 2010, he noted.

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