Background There is increasing awareness of the impact of corporate policies on health and how the consumption of unhealthy products contributes to the global burden of non-communicable disease. Public health academics are reviewing the activities of commercial actors that influence the disease burden and comparing the strategies of these unhealthy commodity industries which include the alcohol, food and beverage and gambling industries. The English Premier League (EPL) is considered to be the most viewed sports league internationally and is broadcast to 212 territories; a truly ‘global football league’. The league’s commodification and huge audience has enabled a rise in commercial activities and an increased income for clubs through their sponsorship and broadcasting arrangements.
Methods Five EPL matches in 2019 (in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 football seasons) were recorded as broadcast on BT Sport and Amazon Prime in the UK. This study quantified visual marketing references to unhealthy products in the broadcasting. All segments of broadcast (including commercial breaks) were manually coded using a content analysis for marketing references to unhealthy products. Coding variables included location (e.g. pitch border and shirt front) and format (e.g. electronic).
Results In these five EPL matches, a mean of 24.46% of all footage included at least one reference to an unhealthy commodity. However, this varied considerably between matches with a high of 38.97% at the Newcastle United v Burnley match on BT Sport on 26th February where both football clubs had shirt sponsorship by gambling brands. FUN88, Newcastle’s principal sponsor and a China-based online gaming firm, received 109 exposures at this single match whilst bet365, another sponsor, received 190. Whilst gambling companies were the most referenced (921) across the five matches analysed, there were also a combined 217 references to alcohol and food and beverages. Across all five games, there was a mean of 1.3 exposures to unhealthy products each minute (2.1 during Newcastle United v Burnley).
Conclusion Results show that watching men’s football on television exposes the global audience, including many young people, to a significant level of advertising of unhealthy commodities. Given contemporary challenges to public health, such as obesity and non- communicable diseases (including mental health), and that marketing is intended to influence purchasing behaviour, the UK government, the EPL and its membership clubs should consider regulating EPL clubs’ commercial relationships where these have the potential to damage fans’ and viewers’ health.
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