Rugby league clubs join NSW govt initiative against sports betting advertising

Two major Australian National Rugby League (NRL) clubs have joined the New South Wales government’s ‘Reclaim the Game’ initiative, distancing themselves from sports betting.

By signing up to Reclaim the Game, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and South Sydney Rabbitohs have become the first teams from the NRL – one of the most-watched tournaments in Australia, with a TV audience of 101.9 million in 2019 – to join the programme. 

The two clubs will remove any betting sponsorships from their team apparel and will no longer allow advertisements for gambling firms on in-ground signage or screens across their stadiums. 

Additionally, the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs will also commit to educational aspects of the initiative, aiming to raise awareness of gambling-related harm and confront a perceived normalisation of betting and gaming in Australia. 

Aaron Warburton, CEO of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, said: “The contest, the rivalries, the skill, and the personalities within our game drive millions of viewers across the country to tune in. Rugby league is one of the most entertaining sporting experiences on offer.

At Bulldogs home matches, we are extremely proud to be reclaiming the game for our members and fans. We believe that you should be able to watch and enjoy our great game with your friends and families without the constant advertising from sports betting companies.”

Reclaim the Game currently has the support of nine clubs from the popular Australian Football League (AFL), cricket’s Big Bash League (BBL), soccer’s A-League and the National Basketball League (NBL).

However, the individual leagues themselves are not signed up to the programme, just clubs from each tournament – the NRL is partnered with Flutter Entertainment’s Australia focused brand Sportsbet and the AFL with BetEasy, although the BBL has refused to agree with a betting firm. 

AFL clubs have been particularly proactive in addressing their links to the betting industry over the past decade, with several teams in the state of Victoria partnering with the Victorian Responsible Gaming Foundation, and in doing so severing their betting sponsorship ties.

“Our community plays such a big role in our Club, and we felt that this is a campaign we can support to reduce community exposure to sports betting advertising,” added South Sydney Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly.

“Research shows that there are long term effects on families when sports betting cause gambling harm in the community, and we feel the Reclaim the Game message is a positive for the fans and families that support our club and our sport.

“We hope that we play a style of football that can entertain everyone in the family without feeling like they need to bet on the game to enjoy it. Reclaim the Game is all about that message, and we’re happy to support them and their desire to effect cultural change around sports gambling advertising.”

The prevalence of gambling advertising on Australia’s TV screens, particularly during sporting events, has become a topic of public debate in recent years, mirroring developments in the UK where sports sponsorship arrangements are expected as a result of the 2005 Gambling Act review. 

Notably, Tabcorp CEO David Attenborough called for restrictions on advertising last year, with the exception of during racing events, citing a need to protect vulnerable people and limit children’s exposure to betting. 

“Sports betting companies know that visibility works, which is why they invest so much in advertising on the most popular code in NSW,” remarked Natalie Wright, Director of the NSW government’s Office of Responsible Gambling.

“We are so pleased to see the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs reclaim the game in the advertising spaces they control. They are leading the way in the NRL by calling time on sports betting sponsorships. We hope that other clubs and the NRL itself will follow suit, so that fans can get back to what sport is all about.”

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