A new study reveals for the first time the large-scale prevalence of gambling marketing during live television screenings and social media promotions of National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) games in Canada.
The rapid assessment, conducted by the University of Bristol in collaboration with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News, monitored gambling-related marketing during NHL and NBA broadcasts on television and social media in Ontario over a five-day period. The findings reveal trends, highlighting the prevalence of the problem and the need for stronger regulation.
The investigation revealed more than 4,100 gambling messages spread over just seven NHL and NBA games. Most gambling-related messages (93.9%) during interviews were clearly visible on competition surfaces or advertising hoardings. The study found that over a fifth (21.6%) of the total live broadcast time included gambling logos or references to gambling, with only a small portion (3.3%) featuring harm reduction or age restriction messages. (less than %).
During one NBA game between the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, 799 gambling messages were discovered. Almost half (48%) of social media gambling ads recorded ignored important national advertising regulations.
Dr Jamie Wheaton, co-principal investigator at the University of Bristol, said: Viewers, including children, are exposed to widely visible logos as well as studio coverage dedicated to sports betting.
“This risks normalizing gambling as part of sports coverage, with little awareness of the serious risks it poses.”
A total of 3,537 gambling messages were recorded during the live TV broadcast, which lasted approximately 21 hours over five days from October 25th to 29th last year.
“The total length of televised gambling messages, including studio discussions, averaged 39.8 minutes per match broadcast. In other words, every hour of coverage included an average of 13 minutes of gambling messages. Dr. Wheaton added:
The broadcast featured a number of sports betting markets, which were displayed on screen during game commentary in the studio. The TV sports presenter also discussed statistics about key players within the match that viewers can use to influence and optimize their bets.
Dr Raffaello Rossi, marketing lecturer at the University of Bristol Business School and co-lead researcher, said: “Incorporating discussion of sports betting into broadcast content is highly problematic as it further blurs the line between broadcast content and marketing. ” he said. This can give the impression that betting is a completely normal and harmless part of experiencing sports.
“This is especially concerning because many children and vulnerable populations attend NHL and NBA games.”
The findings showed that only 2.6% of gambling messages during game broadcasts contained harm reduction messages, and only 2.8% contained age restriction messages.
The study included broadcasts of two NBL games and five NHL games in Ontario, as well as an analysis of the social media accounts of 10 licensed gambling brands. This study uses an analytical model from a previous study conducted in the United Kingdom, which similarly found that messages about gambling saturate coverage of Premier League football.
The Canadian study also highlighted the growing potential of social media to reach larger audiences. Almost half (48%) of social media ads are not clearly identifiable as advertisements and violate key regulations in Canada's Advertising Standards Code. Almost everyone (98%) who appeared in the advertisement was male, and 4 out of 5 (79%) he was between 18 and 34 years old.
“Our research highlights serious issues with social media gambling marketing, and content marketing in particular. We need regulations to protect consumers, especially children, who are particularly vulnerable to such despicable advertising methods. There is an urgent need to strengthen this,” Dr. Rossi added.
Commenting on Canada's gambling advertising regulations, Dr. Wheaton said: “We believe that Ontario's current regulations lack the ability to effectively control the amount and form of gambling marketing seen during these sports. Regulations need to be further strengthened to protect them.”
The report highlights that international cooperation is urgently needed to tackle the problem, as the problem is exacerbated by the proliferation of online gambling platforms.
Dr. Rossi said, “Unlike mature regulations in jurisdictions that have had legal online sports betting for many years, Ontario's regulatory framework feels somewhat immature. Big players like FanDuel, Betfair, and Skybet… This poses significant challenges for the gambling industry, which is part of one huge multilateral cooperation with extensive experience operating in multiple jurisdictions.
“It is almost impossible to counter their knowledge with new regulations. We therefore need to join forces and foster greater international cooperation to effectively regulate betting activity.”
Last year, the University of Bristol launched the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harm Research to lead pioneering interdisciplinary research into the wider impact of gambling harm.
This independent hub will foster world-leading research to improve our understanding of the harms of gambling as a growing public health problem that requires greater oversight and regulation.