Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA); the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP); BV Gaming Ltd t/a BetVictor
Where: United Kingdom
When: 19 April 2023
Law stated as at: 27 April 2023
The ASA has published a fresh ruling which adds further guidance to last year’s revised rules that gambling and lotteries ads should not be of “strong appeal” to children and young persons.
In December 2022, the ASA upheld a complaint against LC International Ltd (trading as Ladbrokes) for featuring Premier League footballers Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly in an ad on social media. These footballers were deemed to be of strong appeal to under-18s.
In February of this year, however, the ASA ruled in favour of two gambling companies whose ads featured Peter Crouch and Micah Richards respectively. These two ex-footballers were deemed not to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
Now, in a recent ruling, the ASA has upheld a complaint against BV Gaming Ltd (trading as BetVictor) for an ad which featured non-UK based ‘star’ footballers at a top European club, namely FC Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. These footballers were deemed to be high risk in terms of how likely they were to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
A reminder of the revised rules
As of 1 October 2022, revised rules provide that marketing communications for gambling and lotteries must not:
- be likely to be of “strong appeal” to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture; nor
- include a person or character whose example is likely to be followed by or who has a “strong appeal” to those aged under 18.
The accompanying ASA guidance states that betting ads for football are considered to be of inherently strong appeal to under-18s and are therefore prohibited unless steps have been taken to limit the ad’s potential appeal so that it falls under one of the exemptions.
ASA challenge and BetVictor’s response
A Facebook ad for BetVictor featuring an image of FC Barcelona players Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for the club was seen in January 2023. The ad asked the question “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?”. The ad featured BetVictor’s logo and text in the top corner.
The ASA challenged under the revised CAP Code rules whether the ad featured individuals who were likely to have strong appeal to under-18-year olds.
In its response, BetVictor argued that:
- 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 on its own for the ASA to find an ad in breach;
- both of the players concerned had lower profiles and had not played in a club match against a Premier League team since 2019 nor had they scored an international goal against a British national team;
- neither player had a high-value, personal sponsorship deal with a major brand known in the UK;
- neither player had a strong social media profile with under 18s;
- Search engine optimisation data showed that neither player had a volume of searches in the UK as true ‘top-flight’ footballers and also had less than retired UK footballers; and
- their data showed that 100% of the post’s viewers were over the age of 25.
The ASA upheld the complaint and assessed that BetVictor’s ad breached the revised rules in the CAP Code for the following reasons:
- The CAP guidance identifies football as a subject of strong appeal to under 18s and also states that non-UK star footballers, especially those from top European clubs, are high risk in terms of how likely there were to be of strong appeal to under 18s.
- Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were both players at FC Barcelona, a widely supported and successful European club in Spain’s top league – the ASA noted that Jordi Alba had played for the club since 2012 and won 16 major honours, and Sergio Busquets had made nearly 700 appearances for FC Barcelona and was the current captain.
- The ASA also noted that both players had played in the recent 2022 FIFA World Cup for Spain, with both also playing in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy at Wembley. Sergio Busquets was the captain at both Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, with Jordi Alba taking on the captaincy in the Euro 2022 semi-final at Wembley. The ASA considered that the role of captain for a national team would make the players “more well-known and admired by under 18s”.
- The ASA therefore considered that the players were both ‘star’ players with a high profile and were likely to appeal strongly to under 18s.
- The ad appeared on a social media platform that requires users to self-verify their age, and the audience had not been robustly age-verified (for example though marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking).
Why this matters:
As with the Ladbrokes ruling from December 2022, it was the ASA which brought this challenge itself, rather than an independent complainant.
This ruling is a further example of the ASA applying the new CAP Code rules for gambling and lotteries content and provides another useful insight into what it will consider when determining the strength of appeal to children. It demonstrates that ads featuring non-UK players who are high-profile stars at top European clubs could still be considered as players who were likely to strongly appeal to under 18s. Even though the players in question are not particularly high profile in terms of goal creation or scoring (they play as a defensive midfielder and a left-back), the ASA clearly considers that players who have numerous appearances for high-profile clubs and national teams will have strong appeal to children. Of particular relevance appears to be the national tournaments in which the players featured – so advertisers should be alive to any appearances that players make in such tournaments.
Finally, the ruling also further reiterates that the ASA expects advertisers to hold robust audience and follower demographic data and to use reliable age-gating mechanisms.