Back in 2013 there was significant media and public concern about sports betting – and in particular the actions of Tom Waterhouse who held a sponsorship arrangement with the National Rugby League (NRL). People were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the invasion of sports betting into sports and especially the television coverage of the NRL. Watching an NRL match at that time would involve extensive discussions about the form, player issues and injuries, and betting markets for teams playing – before, during and after the game. Eventually Tom Waterhouse was removed from this sponsorship arrangement. However, for anyone who watches the NRL at the moment you may have seen Joel Caine as a regular fixture on the NRL TV coverage discussing the betting market on behalf of his employer sportsbet.com has replaced him. This shows that sports betting and the marketing of it, seems to be here to stay.
A few years ago social marketers identified that research on the effects of gambling marketing, and the development of social marketing programme tackling problem gambling was an area of important focus (see Gordon & Moodie, 2009). Recent research on sports betting marketing, and how consumers engage with sports betting has identified that the concern around the gamblification of sport and society more generally may be warranted.
A recent study funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation identified that sports betting is becoming embedded as a normalised and regular social practice among young adults; and that sports betting marketing engages with young people through using markers of community that surrounds sport. The study used multiple methods of content analysis, and friendship group interviews to explore contemporary sports betting marketing, and consumer responses to marketing and their engagement in sports betting consumption.
A content analysis of sports betting marketing on the AFL, NRL websites and those of leading sports betting brands: http://www.tomwaterhouse.com, www.tab.com.au, www.sportsbet.com.au, www.sportingbet.com, and www.centrebet.com was conducted and found that the marketing was heavily embedded within community cultures of sport by using language identifying with sport, identifying with the rituals and traditions of the game, and identifying with the sense of togetherness and belonging often present in sports. In a sense sports betting brands use brand community markers associated with sports to engage consumers.
Focus group research with young adult (18-30 year old) sports betting consumers found that they were often highly aware of and engaged by sports betting brand community activities, and the sports betting marketing may play a role in socialising them to sports betting.
The focus group research also found that consumers of sports betting effectively form lifestyle consumption communities – that form social ties and connections between people that bet on sport. The sociality and passion of being interested in sports (and sports betting) were found to be important factors that attract people to a lifestyle in which they bet on sport.
Shared cultural values of competition (e.g. having something – a bet – riding on the game to make it more interesting) and loyalty (to your sport, team and your mates) appeared to help hold such consumption communities together. Using acumen (e.g. calculating the odds & using various tactics to inform the placing of bets), and knowledge of the game (e.g. being aware of current form & injuries of players) were found to be ways in which consumers gain power and status in the lifestyle consumption communities of sports betting.
What this latest research shows is that sports betting is becoming a social practice often performed in groups and in social environments as part of a lifestyle. Contributing to this is the significant marketing of sports betting and the design of sports betting apps on mobile phones – making it easy, accessible, fun and sociable to bet on sports.
As sports betting becomes more socialised there are obvious concerns about what effect this may have on individuals, communities and society. If more people bet on sport, and bet more often this may have negative impacts on themselves, their friends and families and society. It will be interesting to watch whether rates of problem and pathological gambling rise as the market for sports betting increases. For social marketers this also means that gambling is becoming an ever more relevant area – for research and for social marketing programmes to tackle some of the harms associated with problem gambling.
Ross Gordon, AASM President.