Upheld: The strong appeal of “star” footballers

United Kingdom

On 19 April 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) issued a ruling against BetVictor for featuring two professional footballers deemed to have a strong appeal to under-18s in a paid-for Facebook ad.

This ruling is the second to be upheld in respect of the new gambling advertising rules which came into force in October 2022, which strengthened obligations on gambling operators to ensure the content of their ads is not appealing to under 18s. This adds to the ASA’s rulings in respect of football players (following ads for Paddy Power and SkyBet which were not upheld earlier this year - see our summary here) and provides more clarity on which football players the ASA considers to fall within scope of the rules.

The Advert

A paid-for Facebook ad for BetVictor was seen in January 2023 and featured an image of Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for FC Barcelona. Above the image, text read “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?”, alongside a BetVictor logo and further text in the top corner of the ad.

The ruling was initiated by the ASA, who challenged whether the inclusion of Alba and Busquets was likely to have strong appeal to under-18s, in breach of the rules.

The Ruling

BV Gaming (trading as BetVictor) stated that they had procedures in place to ensure that their advertising was not in breach. BetVictor made the following arguments:

  • The CAP guidance stated that when a person or character was used to illustrate a subject of strong appeal to under-18s, their association with the subject was not a basis alone for the ASA to find an ad in breach of the Code.
  • Alba and Busquets may be part of a top-flight team, but BetVictor didn’t consider them to be well-known in the UK, in comparison to more “high risk” players like Messi, Xavi or Ronaldo. Rather, BetVictor deemed the players “medium risk, as they are part of a lower profile top Euro or World club, and don’t play in an attacking or goal-scoring position that would get them in the headlines.
  • Search Engine Optimisation data showed neither footballer had a high volume of Google searches in the UK as a true “top-flight” footballer and even had less than retired UK footballers. BetVictor reinforced this with data highlighting that their total UK searches were in the region of between 1-5% of that of Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe’s. Interestingly, BetVictor indicated that Busquets’ searches were 15% of Micah Richards’ and 17% of Peter Crouch’s, and Alba’s 13% and 15% respectively, after Richards and Crouch featured in the Paddy Power and SkyBet ads which were subject to ASA complaints that weren’t upheld. 
  • Alba and Busquets have never scored against a UK team and had not played in a club match against any Premier League team since 2019, at the time the ad appeared.
  • BetVictor set out the limited recent history of England and Spain playing against each other and Alba and Busquets’ low profiles on the World Cup scene.
  • Neither player had a high-value, personal sponsorship deal with any major brand known in the UK.
  • Neither had a strong social media profile (with only limited recent posts and the use of Catalan or Spanish over English) and preferred to use Twitter and Instagram over platforms more popular with younger audiences like Snapchat, Twitch and TikTok. The demographic of their social media followings was low in the UK, which didn’t feature in the top five countries of where their followers were based.
  • BetVictor explained that the post was designed to engage people in conversation about topics they were interested in (rather than designed as an ad), with no comments, links or calls to action back to betting sites and it had been paid-for only to ensure it was appropriately targeted to over-25s.
  • BetVictor stated it had data from Facebook which showed that 100% of the post’s viewers were over the age of 25.

In its ruling, the ASA referred to CAP guidance which stated that, of relevance to gambling, football was the most prominent subject of strong appeal to under-18s. To that end, the ASA noted that players at an elite level, especially those with international success, were therefore likely to appeal strongly to children. Whilst BetVictor considered Alba and Busquets to be “medium risk” in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under-18s, the ASA disagreed, stating that non-UK “star” footballers, particularly those at top European clubs, were likely to be of strong appeal.

The complaint was upheld by the ASA for the following reasons, amongst others:

  • Alba and Busquets were both current players at the European Football Club FC Barcelona (a professional, top-flight football club and known to be one of the most widely supported and successful clubs in the world) and played for the Spanish national team.
  • The ASA referenced Alba and Busquets’ success during their careers. In respect of Alba, the ASA noted that he had been a player at FC Barcelona since 2012, winning 16 major honours, as well as one UEFA Champions League title, appearing over 700 times for FC Barcelona where he was the current captain and ranked third in terms of most appearances in Barcelona’s history.
  • In terms of wider appearance, the ASA highlighted that they had both played for Spain during the most recent 2022 FIFA World Cup and had played in the semi-final against Italy in London at Wembley in the 2020 European Championship (Busquets captaining both competitions, but Alba also taking on the role at the European Championship semi-final, which the ASA noted would likely make a player more well-known and admired by under-18s). The ASA highlighted the wide media coverage of these international events in the UK, which would have been of interest to under-18s.

The ASA acknowledged that the ad would have been acceptable to appear if under-18s had been entirely excluded from the audience. However, given Facebook’s self-certification sign-up process, the ASA concluded that BetVictor had not excluded under-18s from the audience with the high level of accuracy required for ads which have a strong appeal to under-18s.


Generally, the ASA’s decision demonstrates that the strong appeal rules will be applied strictly but, in addition, the following points can be taken away from this ruling:

  1. The ASA may rule on footballers who play for teams outside the UK if they are “star” players, particularly if they play for top-flight European or World clubs, captain the team, and have appeared in international competitions.
  2. This ruling can be distinguished from the ASA’s previous ruling on an ad featuring Peter Crouch, which was deemed not to be of strong appeal to children. Various factors were taken into account, but it was important that Peter Crouch had retired in 2019 and, prior to this, had mainly appeared as a substitute only. Since 2011, Peter Crouch had also played for less popular clubs. Therefore, the player’s current and recent status and profile will be of importance when determining whether the player is of strong appeal.   
  3. If operators intend to feature individuals or characters who may have a strong appeal to under-18s in their ads, they must ensure the medium has robust age-verification methods in place, or that it has checked age by way of marketing lists or payment data, to ensure that under-18s are entirely excluded.
  4. Comprehensive metrics on audience data are important, but a lower UK-based social media following will not completely serve to minimise the risk of an individual’s “appeal” factor.
  5. Even if data shows that no under-18s viewed the ad, the ASA may still rule against it, particularly on the basis that such data might not be reliable (e.g. due to self-certification of age).