08/07/2021 - 10:00

Smoking out unhealthy connections

08/07/2021 - 10:00

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Increasing social stigmas could mean the end of beer and betting advertisements in sport.

Smoking out unhealthy connections
The WACA has extended its partnership with Healthway. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The historical relationship between tobacco companies and major Australian sporting codes must seem oddly ironic to people born after the mid-1990s.

The fact that smoking (now clearly established as unhealthy) was packaged hand in hand with the healthy lifestyle promoted by sports bodies as recently as 25 years ago is a juxtaposition some would say borders on the comedic.

And while tobacco advertising has been banned from national television since 1976, most forms of cigarette sponsorships were only phased out of Australian sport in the 1990s, when the Tobacco Prohibition Act was passed.

Cricket partnerships were the last to see the light, ending ties in 1996.

However, some states were quicker to act than others.

Victoria was first, having established health promotion foundation VicHealth in 1987 to replace tobacco sponsorships in sport and the arts.

Western Australia introduced its legislation to ban tobacco advertising in those sectors in 1990. It was through the Tobacco Control Act that the state government established the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation, more commonly known as Healthway.

Since its first board meeting in early 1991, Healthway says it has provided at least $470 million worth of grants to more than 5,600 organisations through partnerships and funding for health-related projects and research.

To sport fans, Healthway is most recognisable through campaigns such as ‘Smarter than Smoking’; ‘Alcohol. Think Again’; and ‘Fuel to Go & Play’, with ads displayed at sporting events and venues around the state.

Healthway, which now operates under its own legislation, is required to give at least 30 per cent of its funding to sporting organisations. This figure was about $6.9 million last financial year.

Today, Healthway is partnered with almost all peak bodies in WA sport, with notable grants provided to the Western Australian Cricket Association, Basketball WA, and Netball WA, as well as A-League soccer team Perth Glory in 2019-20 (see table).

The WACA, which once hosted one-day internationals sponsored by British cigarette brand Benson & Hedges through an agreement with the sport’s governing body, Cricket Australia, received a $575,000 grant last financial year to continue promoting Healthway’s ‘Alcohol. Think Again’ message.

Their partnership started in 1996, when the association adopted a smoke-free policy at the WACA Ground following a $275,000 contribution.

Former baseball hub Parry Field in Belmont was the first sporting venue to restrict smoking, in 1993, followed by Subiaco Oval in 1995.

Of course, Healthway partnerships aren’t without conditions. One of those requires that organisations or clubs avoid funding arrangements that promote ‘unhealthy’ brands or messages.

Among these are partnerships with fast-food chains and alcoholic beverage companies.

In accordance with this condition, the WACA removed alcohol promotion from all state-based cricket in September 2013, when it secured $2.1 million from Healthway.

That meant dropping two notable partners, brewing business Lion and soft-drink giant Coca-Cola, to align with Healthway’s policies and ‘Alcohol. Think Again’ campaign.

Last month, Healthway extended its partnership with the WACA by a further two years, ensuring funding of more than $1 million.

Healthway, currently led by acting chief executive Susan Hunt, is overseen by the Department of Local Government along with Lotterywest, with which it merged in 2018.

Healthway’s Fuel to Go & Play campaign. Photo: Mia Mammoliti

Sponsorships look a little different for some of WA’s biggest sporting teams and leagues.

The state’s premier AFL clubs, the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers, have partnered with fast-food giants Hungry Jack’s and McDonald’s; beer brand Carlton Dry; and sports betting business TABTouch, among many other organisations.

Similarly, the AFL has partnered with Carlton Draught, Jim Beam, Wolf Blass, and SportsBet.

And despite the WACA signing on with Healthway, Cricket Australia retains partnerships with XXXX Gold, KFC, and Bet365.

That would explain why fans might see beer and betting advertisements at the WACA Ground during Test matches and ODIs.

Such conflicting partnerships have caused tension in the past.

In 2013, it was widely reported that Cricket Australia had ordered all signage with anti-alcohol messages – namely, Healthway’s ‘alcohol and sport don’t mix’ campaign of the time – be covered up during an Ashes Test.

Although Cricket Australia said the move aligned with its ‘clean venue’ policy, many claimed the sport’s governing body was compromised by a sponsorship with Carlton & United Breweries, which makes Victoria Bitter.

The Australian Medical Association WA’s president at the time, Richard Choong, suggested efforts to cover up Healthway’s signage reflected the power alcohol had over some sports.

In another conflict, Channel 9 threatened to sue the WA Football Commission in 2015 over a sponsorship agreement with WAFL side West Perth.

That was after rival Channel 7, which had negotiated a deal with the commission to telecast WAFL matches, refused to show West Perth games since the club’s jumper carried the Channel 9 logo.

Following negotiations, it was agreed West Perth would wear jumpers that instead featured the logo of children’s charity Variety for all its matches broadcast on TV.

Future of sponsorships

Sponsorships that appear to run counter to sports’ ‘healthy’ message are embedded in the AFL, as indicated previously, and in many ways are a part of the sport’s culture.

And while fast-food, alcohol and gambling are not illegal, the social and health effects of those activities place them firmly in the firing line of those seeking more positive relationships between business and sport.

Gavin Bain, managing partner of brand specialist Wunderman Thompson, said sporting organisations and teams could expect to be questioned over their choice of sponsorships.

“Sporting organisations will increasingly be torn between loyalty for long-time sponsors and the dollars they bring to a club, and their customer tribe who have increasingly become more vocal about perceived poor partnership choices,” Mr Bain told Business News.

“Consumers have become more conscious about the brands they connect with, and so any misalignment can cause confusion or even an active negative reaction.

“A sporting club that parents see as a role model for their kids can expect to be questioned on partnerships that connect with key issues like obesity, gambling, and alcohol as well as face scrutiny for negative player behaviour.”

When it comes to selecting partnerships, Mr Bain said more businesses were aligning with ‘purposeful’ leadership. Such is reflected in Healthway’s policies, which guide the agency in choosing where to allocate its funding.

Its policies include organisations or teams meeting minimum health requirements, such as having healthy food and drink options available, low-strength alcohol and non-alcoholic beverage choices, and prohibiting smoking.

“[Organisations] are making active choices about partnership and sponsorships recognising that an aligned choice can amplify their common values to their employees – a critical audience – and their customers,” Mr Bain said.

“The impacts of the increasingly conscious consumer have already been felt through the reactions of sponsors to player behaviour that flies in the face of what is acceptable to the public.

“We will continue to see pressure on clubs to actively consider the partners they align with to ensure that the club values and ethics they share with their players and supporters are expressed through their partnerships and sponsorships.”

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