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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patterns of sports sponsorship by gambling, alcohol and food companies: an Internet survey

Anthony Maher, Nick Wilson*, Louise Signal and George Thomson

Author Affiliations

Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Wellington, New Zealand

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:95  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-95

Published: 11 April 2006

Abstract

Background

Sports sponsorship is a significant marketing tool. As such, it can promote products that pose risks to health (eg, high fat and high sugar foods) or it can promote health-supporting products (eg, sporting equipment and services). However, there is a lack of data on the proportion of sponsorship associated with "unhealthy" and "healthy" products and no methodology for systematically assessing it. This research aimed to explore this proportion with an Internet survey of sports sponsorship in the New Zealand setting.

Methods

A search methodology was developed to identify Internet-based evidence of sports sponsorship at the national level and at the regional and club level in one specific region (Wellington). The top eight sports for 5-17-year-olds were selected and products and services of sponsors were classified in terms of potential public health impact (using a conservative approach).

Results

Sponsorship of these popular sports was common at the national, regional and club levels (640 sponsors listed on 107 websites overall). Sports sponsorship associated with sponsors' products classified as "unhealthy" (eg, food high in fat and sugar, gambling and alcohol) were over twice as common as sponsorship associated with sponsors' products classified as "healthy" (32.7% (95% CI = 29.1, 36.5) versus 15.5% (95% CI = 12.8, 18.6) respectively). "Gambling" was the most common specific type of sponsorship (18.8%) followed by alcohol (11.3%).

There were significantly more "alcohol" sponsors for rugby, compared to all the other sports collectively (rate ratio (RR) = 2.47; 95% CI = 1.60, 3.79), and for top male sports compared to female (RR = 1.83; 95% CI = 1.05, 3.18). Also there was significantly more "unhealthy food" sponsorship for touch rugby and for "junior" teams/clubs compared to other sports collectively (RR = 6.54; 95% CI = 2.07, 20.69; and RR = 14.72, 95% CI = 6.22, 34.8; respectively). A validation study gave an inter-rater reliability for number of sponsors of 95% (n = 87 sponsors), and an inter-rater reliability of classification and categorisation of 100%.

Conclusion

This study found that the sponsorship of popular sports for young people is dominated by "unhealthy" sponsorship (ie, predominantly gambling, alcohol and unhealthy food) relative to "healthy" sponsorship. Governments may need to consider regulations that limit unhealthy sponsorship and/or adopt alternative funding mechanisms for supporting popular sports.