Paddy Power’s new advert on Youtube for Tottenham Hotspur has been slammed after two UK charities claimed it is making a joke of the autistic community.
The campaign aimed to mock what it’s like being a fan of the club through the use of what seems to be a ‘Spurs Sensory Room’, with photographs displaying Spur’s ‘lack of achievements’, a VR room for ‘fans to cry’ and an interactive zone with ‘Arsenal’s most embarrassing moments’.
Level Playing Field, a charity promoting inclusive match day experiences for disabled fans, told The Athletic: “While the advert doesn’t explicitly say or state ‘Sensory Room’, some people may associate the term ‘Sensory Centre’ with a ‘Sensory Room’.
“Because of this unfortunate wording, the advert could be seen as being in poor taste and undermine the excellent work that goes on within sports to provide sensory rooms to the supporters who rely on them to attend live sport.”
During the 2015/16 season, the first sensory room at a club was opened at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, which proved successful meaning BT and the Premier League then encouraged other clubs to follow suit.
Now, all 20 teams in the English top-flight have these spaces – described as ‘unique spaces which allow adults and children with difficulties such as autism to watch live matches from a room with a window on to the pitch, allowing them to fully enjoy the action’.
“Sensory rooms are an essential access requirement for many fans,” the charity continued. “Clubs work hard to create these services, and we have seen significant growth in this area and other important provisions.
“The recent awareness and growth of the provision of sensory rooms have come from many years of campaigning and showcasing the positive impact of having a sensory room.”
Level Playing Field has also expressed its intent to contact the betting company to explain how this advert could ‘detract from the importance’ of sensory rooms and the ‘vital service’ they provide.
The video has now been removed from Twitter but remains on YouTube.
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, also spoke to The Athletic: “We honestly have no idea what Paddy Power thought the benefits of making this film were. We’re really disappointed they used the term ‘sensory room’ as part of a cheap jibe.
“While we’re glad they’ve removed their social media posts now, they should think about why the film was made in the first place.
“Sensory rooms are not a punchline – they’re an important way to support autistic people and their families to attend big sporting events, like football matches. Without that safe and calming space, they might find the noise and large crowds completely overwhelming.
“Lots of sports clubs are taking great steps to make their venues more accessible for autistic people and their families.
“That should be applauded, not mocked. We want to see a world where every autistic football fan is able to go to the matches they want, surrounded by understanding, acceptance and respect – as part of a society that works for autistic people.”
Paddy Power is well known for taking an often satirical and sometimes controversial approach to marketing, such as its long-running collaboration with former footballer Peter Crouch.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently ruled in favour of the firm’s adverts featuring the ex-England player, stating that commercials featuring retired footballers do not violate marketing rules.