Not Upheld – Sports betting ads that do not have a strong appeal to under 18s

England and Wales

On 08 February 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) issued two rulings in respect of the new gambling advertising rules that came into force in October last year.

On 1 October 2022, a new gambling advertising rule came into force (a summary of which can be read here) which strengthened the obligations on gambling operators to ensure the content of their ads is not appealing to under 18s, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture (the “New Rules”). The introduction of the New Rules raised some questions as to what a “strong appeal” really means, but two new rulings which were not upheld provide further insight into how the New Rules will be applied in practice.

The Adverts

The adverts concerned sports betting products for Paddy Power and SkyBet.

  1. Paddy Power

Two TV ads for Paddy Power were broadcast in November 2022. The first featured a choir singing Christmas carols with the piano player watching a football match on her phone. Peter Crouch appears, conducting  the choir and, when a goal is scored, he leads a Mexican wave with the audience. At various stages, on-screen text appears stating, “COMPLETELY FREE BET BUILDER ON ALL ENGLAND GAMES” and, in another part, “PADDY POWER WHERE WERE YOU IN 22?”. A corresponding voice-over which appears during the ad states “You hear that? That’s the sound of Christmas and the World Cup colliding. So come on all ye faithful, let’s be having ya. Glory to the king of headbutts. Knit those kits. Cross those sprouts. Stuff those turkeys. And attack those carols. Cause from this day we’ll forever ask where were you in twenty-two." The second TV ad was a shortened version of the same.

The complainants challenged whether Peter Crouch was likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18, in breach of the New Rules.

  1. SkyBet

A promoted tweet for SkyBet visible on 02 October 2022 featured an image of Micah Richards. The tweet featured text which read “[Football emoji] Club football returns following the international break…[money face emoji] Get £20 IN FREE BET when you place a £5 bet!”. The complainants argued that the ad included an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s and therefore breached the CAP Code.

The ASA Rulings

  1. Paddy Power: Not upheld

PPB Counterparty Services Ltd (trading as Paddy Power) said that they did not agree that Peter Crouch was of strong appeal to under-18s. Paddy Power made the following arguments, amongst others:

  • Peter Crouch’s professional career as a footballer ended in 2019 and he was therefore a long-retired footballer who was now better known for being a football pundit and entertainer rather than a Premier League footballer.
  • Peter Crouch’s media profile was consistent with that of a 41-year old man and not likely to be aspirational to under-18s.
  • In terms of his social media presence, Peter Crouch did not have public accounts on TikTok, Facebook or Twitch at the time the ads were broadcast and his Instagram account had not been updated for several years. Of his 1.5 million followers on Twitter, between September to December 2022, 0.46% of those were aged 13-17 years. Other audience data raised showed that the top topics of Peter Crouch’s Twitter followers were markedly adult themes like politics and business.
  • Other ventures undertaken by Peter Crouch were of overwhelming adult commercial appeal, including being a football pundit on the subscription-only BT Sport, the grass-roots football documentary “Save Our Beautiful Game” on subscription-only Discovery+ and Amazon Prime, various TV appearances shown after the watershed in 2020 and 2021, the podcast he hosted, various endorsements, an autobiographical style book and his Daily Mail column.
  • The concept of Christmas in and of itself was not likely to be of strong appeal to children and any references to Christmas were reserved to themes of strong appeal to adults so as to not conflate festive activities with youth appeal.

Whilst some activities, including betting ads for football, were considered to have strong appeal to under-18s, the ASA reviewed whether Paddy Power had suitably limited the use of people who were likely to have strong appeal to under-18s. The complaint was not upheld by the ASA for the following reasons, amongst others:

  • The ASA analysed Peter Crouch’s football career and noted that, whilst earlier in his career he would have been widely recognisable, he had played for less popular clubs since 2011 which would not have been of strong appeal to under-18s at the time the ads were broadcast.
  • With regards to his other associations in the media, the ASA noted Peter Crouch’s limited social media presence and the very small number of followers on Twitter who were under 18. The ASA considered that Peter Crouch’s social media profile was unlikely to make him of strong appeal to under-18s.
  • The ASA considered that Peter Crouch’s appearance in TV programmes and his podcasts were largely aimed at an adult audience and his commercial partnerships were with adult focused brands.
  • Peter Crouch’s appearance as a panellist on The Masked Dancer, shown on Saturdays at 6.30PM and featuring light-hearted entertainment, brightly coloured costumes and popular music was analysed further. The ASA noted that the total viewing figures of children who watched any of the eight episodes in the series, taken from BARB data, was 8.5 million. The ASA considered that the data showed the programme was of appeal to children and highlighted that Peter Crouch himself had said his own children enjoyed the show. A BBC news programme for children had also published a number of articles about the programme which demonstrated they considered it was of interest to them. Whilst the show attracted a significant number of under-18s to watch it, the ASA acknowledged that Peter Crouch appeared as one of four panellists, that the programme was of broad demographic appeal and that there was no evidence that his role in the programme had led to him being viewed in an aspirational or influential way by under-18s. Together with the evidence provided by Paddy Power in respect of Peter Crouch’s social media profile, it was concluded that his appearance in The Masked Dancer was unlikely to make him of strong appeal to under-18s.
  • Whilst the ad made clear references to Christmas, the ASA considered that there was nothing specifically in relation to Christmas that would have been of strong appeal to children (for example, depicting Santa Claus).
  1. SkyBet: Not Upheld

Bonne Terre Ltd, trading as SkyBet, believed that Micah Richards did not have a strong appeal to children, making the following arguments, amongst others:

  • Micah Richards’ professional football career had ended in 2019 and he had not been a Premier League footballer since 2015. At the end of his career, Micah Richards had been playing for Aston Villa, which was a Championship club at the time. Micah Richards was therefore more widely recognised as a football pundit than as a former footballer.
  • Micah Richards did not have an active public account on YouTube, TikTok or Twitch and audience data provided for Instagram showed 0.07% of his Instagram followers were aged 0-16 years and 2.19% were aged 17-19 years. 0.04% of his Twitter followers were aged 0-16 years and 2.15% were aged 17-19 years.
  • As a pundit for BBC and Sky, Micah Richards featured in a range of football-themed TV shows which were scheduled later in the evening, reducing the likelihood that they were regularly watched by children. Whilst Micah Richards had appeared in a three-minute cameo of a CBBC series Football Academy, his appearance was not recurring, and he was not a predominant feature of the episode. There hadn’t been an increase in his social media following after this appearance.
  • Current and previous endorsements made by Micah Richards were targeted at an adult audience, including AutoTrader, a column in the Daily Mail and an autobiography.
  • Sky Bet had appropriately targeted the ads towards an adult audience through the use of tools available on Twitter. The campaign was targeted at over-25s who followed betting brands, and who had a known interest in sports and sports betting.

Whilst the ASA recognised Micah Richards’ successful professional career as a footballer until 2019, it was noted that he had not been a Premier League player since 2015 and his England career had ended in 2012. The complaint was not upheld by the ASA for the following reasons, amongst others:

  • The ASA considered that Micah Richards was now more likely recognised as a sports pundit and Brand Ambassador for SkyBet.  The ASA referenced the joint BCAP and CAP guidance which classed retired footballers who had moved into punditry as ‘moderate risk’ of strong appeal to under-18s and stated that pundits would be assessed on the basis of their wider media profile.
  • With regards to his appearance on football related TV shows, BARB data did not show that a significant number of children watched Match of The Day live during the period leading up to the ad. Whilst Micah Richards appeared as a pundit on Sky’s live coverage of Premier League football games, which were of strong appeal to under-18s, the ASA concluded that the same strong appeal was unlikely to extend to a pundit-based discussion around the game.
  • Outside of his role as a football pundit, the ASA noted that Micah Richards’ appearances on  TV were scheduled after the watershed and were primarily aimed at an adult audience. Whilst the preview for the children’s TV programme had been running at the time the ad was seen, the episode itself had not yet been aired. The ASA acknowledged that if Micah Richards had appeared regularly and prominently on such a programme, it was likely that he would have been considered to have strong appeal. Given his limited appearance on one unaired episode of the show, the ASA concluded that it was unlikely to have resulted in a significant change in his level of appeal to under-18s.
  • Beyond his TV appearances, the ASA considered Micah Richards’ other endorsements to be adult focused and his following of under-18s on social media to be small.
  • The ASA also considered that there was nothing in the way Micah Richards was presented in the ad that would have strongly attracted the attention of under-18s.

Next Steps

In respect of the New Rules, if a complaint is raised, the ASA will expect an operator to show that they have assessed all the elements of content that make up the advert and that they hold sufficient evidence to demonstrate compliance with the New Rules.

These rulings provide an insight into the comprehensiveness of the ASA’s analysis of the appeal of the personalities and themes that feature in a gambling ad. Whilst these cases reinforce the fact that sports pundits can fall outside the scope of the New Rules, it is clear that this wouldn’t automatically exempt gambling ads which feature former sports stars. The ASA analysed all aspects of Peter Crouch and Micah Richards’ media careers in these cases, focusing on who they appeal to, with a particular focus on current and recent appearances in the public eye. These cases also demonstrate the importance of providing detailed metrics associated with relevant personalities to assess audience data.

Operators should ensure they have documented a detailed review of relevant advertising materials alongside the New Rules if they intend to launch content that could fall within scope.