Sponsorship of high-profile sporting and cultural events is an important and lucrative alcohol marketing strategy. It creates high levels of awareness and allows brands to be associated with attractive and emotionally arousing cultural phenomena such as music or sport [1
]. Having positive emotional responses to alcohol brands have been associated with increased likelihood of consumption [3
] and alcohol companies have reported increased sales as a result of sponsorship [1
]. Exposure to alcohol marketing, including alcohol sports sponsorship, is associated with increased rates of underage and risky drinking [6
]. As well as raising awareness, sponsorship creates positive emotional associations with products and helps to shape norms [2
]. Consequently, many countries restrict alcohol advertising and sponsorship activities in attempts to protect young people and promote public health [10
]. In France, for example, the Loi Évin restricts the placement of alcohol advertising to print media with a largely adult readership (e.g., magazines about travel or home design), the content of which must be based on factual and informative data about the product. No lifestyle messages can be featured and all advertisements must display a mandatory health warning [11
]. Broadcast advertising of alcohol products on television and radio are prohibited in France, as is alcohol sponsorship of sporting and cultural events [13
International football tournaments provide a particularly high-profile platform for sponsorship and marketing. The final of the 2014 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, for example, attracted an average global television audience of around 570 million [14
]. Similarly, televised broadcasts of the 2012 UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) European football tournament (typically referred to as the EURO) attracted more than 300 million viewers across 230 worldwide territories [15
]. Although the methods used to record the presence of alcohol marketing have differed between studies, previous research has consistently found a high volume of alcohol marketing references present in broadcasts of both tournaments. For example, a frequency analysis of the UEFA EURO 2012 football tournament counted every time a brand logo appeared and found an average of 221.75 references per broadcast [16
], whereas a frequency analysis of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil found that alcohol references appeared on screen approximately 100 times per broadcast [17
The UEFA EURO 2016 tournament differs from previous tournaments in two ways. First, the number of teams featuring at the tournament increased from 16 to 24, which increased the number of matches played and the potential interest from television audiences in competing nations. Second, it was the first time that the tournament had been held in France since the introduction of the Loi Évin in 1991 (France last hosted the Euro tournament in 1984). Despite the legal restrictions on alcohol sponsorship, however, beer producer Carlsberg was again named as one of the 10 key sponsors of EURO 2016 [18
]. Carlsberg has sponsored the UEFA EURO tournament since 1988 and claims that this is a profitable relationship, reporting that its sponsorship of the UEFA EURO 2012 tournament “surpassed all expectations” in terms of fan engagement and beer sales [19
Recent research has raised questions about the Loi Évin, with cross-sectional surveys reporting that young people in France recall exposure to alcohol marketing through a range of channels, including at sporting and cultural events, despite such marketing being supposedly prohibited [11
]. These findings have wider implications, given that the Loi Évin is often cited as an exemplar of marketing policy by those who advocate for tighter restrictions [20
]. Building on this debate, this study explores the frequency and nature of alcohol marketing references in UK broadcasts of the UEFA EURO 2016 football tournament. By doing so it explores what impact, if any, the Loi Évin had on the presence of alcohol marketing at the tournament and the types of marketing messages that audiences were exposed to during the tournament.
2. Materials and Methods
A frequency analysis of all verbal and visual references to alcohol marketing was conducted on 18 matches from the UEFA EURO 2016 football tournament, as broadcast in the UK. The design and approach was informed by previous studies into alcohol sponsorship of televised top class English club football [23
] and the UEFA EURO 2012 football tournament [16
2.2. Selection of Broadcasts
Eighteen matches from across the UEFA EURO football tournament were recorded as broadcast in the UK on the public service broadcaster BBC and the main commercial broadcaster ITV (STV in Scotland) (Table 1
). Given the UK context of the study, all the matches featuring the English national team were purposively sampled (n
= 4). As this study considered the effectiveness of Loi Évin, all broadcasts involving the host nation France (n
= 7) were also purposively sampled to provide insight into matches where international interest and television audiences were likely to be high. This has proven to be the case in previous tournaments where matches featuring the host nation have tended to attract the most viewers globally [14
]. All broadcasts involving the Republic of Ireland (n
= 4) were also purposively sampled, as the introduction of tighter restrictions on alcohol sponsorship, and the implications these may have for hosting international sporting events, were being debated in Ireland at the same time as the tournament [24
]. As both England and the Republic of Ireland were eliminated from the tournament in the round of 16, two additional matches were randomly selected for the quarter finals, while both semi-finals were recorded. As the final was shown on both ITV and BBC, both broadcasts were recorded. The BBC broadcast was chosen for analysis, as it had the higher audience share [26
All the selected broadcasts were recorded in their entirety using recordable DVD players. Each recording included normal playing time, added time, extra time, penalty-shoot outs, pre-and post-match interviews and discussion, half-time analysis, and any commercial breaks. The recordings excluded any pre- or post-match discussion, interviews or highlights that were not part of the main scheduled broadcast (e.g., content on on-demand television, content uploaded to sports news sites, and content accessible through interactive television).
2.3. Defining Alcohol Marketing References
A reference was defined as any visual and/or verbal reference to an alcohol brand, lasting one second or more, during the broadcasted programme or commercial breaks. In order to capture total exposure, a reference was counted each time it appeared or was heard, irrespective of whether it had been previously seen (e.g., a pitch side advertising board seen in-play first and then again in a replay of that action). A new reference was counted each time the camera changed shot, even if the reference source remained the same (e.g., pitch side advertising first viewed from behind the goal and then again when the shot reverted to the wide side-line angle). A new reference was also counted if a source went out of shot for more than a second (e.g., if the camera panned away from the pitch side advertising and then back again). If multiple different references were presented at the same time (e.g., static and electronic pitch advertising), each was recorded as a separate reference, not combined. If multiple identical references were visible at the same time (for example, if the same brand name or slogan appeared multiple times on the pitch border or on an interview board), they were recorded as “identical references visible at the same time”.
2.4. Codebook Variables
All alcohol marketing references were captured using a codebook that was developed based on two similar previous studies which recorded alcohol references in professional televised football [16
]. Each reference was coded on the following nominal or continuous criteria. Full definitions are provided in Appendix A
Broadcast segment (e.g., pre-match, first half, and half time).
Location (e.g., pitch border, interview area, and pre-recorded video segments).
Format (e.g., static advertising, electronic advertising, and commercial advertisement).
Duration of reference (in seconds).
Identical reference visible at same time (e.g., multiple pitch borders).
Alcohol brand featured (e.g., Carlsberg and Fosters).
Nature of brand reference (e.g., direct reference—such as brand names/logo—or indirect reference—although a name/logo did not appear, the brand was identifiable from other signifiers such as phrases from brand slogans, colours, and typefaces).
2.5. Procedure and Inter-Rater Reliability
An initial codebook was developed and piloted on a recorded match from the FIFA World Cup 2014, and revised based on discussion between RP, NC and MS. After being recorded, all 18 broadcasts were systematically coded by RP or NC, while all commercial breaks were coded by an additional researcher (LR). All DVDs were played on Windows Media Player, using the pause and rewind function as required. Data were coded into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet designed around the codebook. A separate spreadsheet was used for each broadcast.
RP and NC both coded one broadcast in full (France vs. Germany). Inter-rater reliability was established through percentage agreement on the number of references coded for the categorical variables (e.g., number of references in the pre-match). When averaged for each section of the codebook, there was high agreement for broadcast segment (95%), reference type (98%), reference location (98%), reference format (94%), content of the reference (99%), and which brand was featured (99%). These estimates exceed the suggested 70% threshold for acceptable inter-rater agreement using the percentage measure [27
]. A breakdown of agreement by variable is reported in Appendix B
As this study was based on publicly available television broadcasts, and did not include any research participants, no ethical approval was required.
2.7. Data Analysis
Data were analysed using SPSS version 23 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Frequencies were computed for broadcast segment, location of the reference, format of the reference, brand referenced and content of the reference. Medians and modes were computed for duration of references and number of identical references, due to variation in the distribution of data for these variables. Means were computed for the total number of references per broadcast and the average number of references per broadcast minute (overall, in-play and out-of-play). A series of independent samples t
-tests were conducted to explore whether the average number of references per match differed by whether the match involved England or not, whether it was broadcast on a commercial channel or not, whether it was broadcast at the weekend or on a weekday, or whether it was broadcast in the afternoon or evening. The average number of references per broadcast minute was computed by dividing the total number of references by the length of each broadcast, and then by dividing the number of references in-play and out-of-play by the respective length of each section in the broadcast. A paired samples t
-test, based on 2000 bootstrapped comparisons, was used to compare the average number of references per in-play minute to the average number of references per out-of-play minute. Cross-tabulations were used to compare the content of marketing (e.g., direct reference versus indirect reference—see Appendix A
) to the location of marketing and the brand that was featured.
This study found a high volume of alcohol marketing in UK broadcasts of the UEFA EURO 2016 football tournament, with an average of 122 references per broadcast and average of 0.65 per broadcast minute. This is consistent with previous research that has suggested that alcohol marketing does feature frequently in broadcasts of international football tournaments [16
]. This study builds on previous research by providing greater insight into the design of marketing, how and where it appeared (e.g., duration, location and the number of identical references), and the nature of the marketing message (e.g., whether the reference to a brand was direct or indirect).
There was no difference in the number of alcohol marketing references across different broadcasts, including on weekdays versus weekends or matches involving England compared to those involving other teams. Notably, the volume of alcohol marketing was consistent regardless of whether the match was broadcast on a channel that does not carry advertising or sponsorship to remain independent from commercial interests [28
] or a channel whose programming is primarily funded by advertising [29
]. This can be explained by the broadcasts on the non-commercial channel showing video segments that featured examples of alcohol marketing instead of commercial advertising breaks. There was also no difference for the volume of alcohol marketing for broadcasts in the afternoon (e.g., 14:00 or 17:00 GMT) compared to the evening. This is important as more young people may have watched the games with an earlier start time, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools allowed students to watch high-profile matches during school hours [30
] or suggestions that some employers screened matches to staff to improve working morale [31
]. That the volume of marketing was consistently high across the tournament is therefore consistent with suggested concerns that sport sponsorship may help to normalise alcohol consumption [32
A unique characteristic of this study is that it examined references at an international football tournament held in France, a country with restrictive alcohol marketing regulations. In the early stages of coding it was identified that broadcast footage of each match was identical across the three countries. We confirmed this by obtaining recordings from matches broadcast in both France and Ireland and conducting a detailed comparison of in-match footage from broadcasts in both France (England versus Russia) and Ireland (Ireland versus Sweden) with the same matches as broadcast in the UK. This was consistent with press coverage explaining that international broadcasters joined the “world feed” supplied by UEFA’s International Broadcast Centre and overlaid their own commentary [34
]. Therefore, in-play footage for all matches was the same in all three countries whereas the out-of-play sections (e.g., pre-match and post-match studio discussions) were different. The results, however, indicate that alcohol companies were able to circumvent the regulations to ensure alcohol marketing references were present at the tournament, despite the Loi Évin prohibiting marketing through sport sponsorship [11
]. Instead marketing references were frequently reported in high-profile locations throughout broadcasts, in particular on electronic pitch side advertising during the match when the audience size is likely to be at its peak. Despite frequent presence, however, almost all marketing references were indirect in nature. In such references, no brand name or logo appeared but the brand was still identifiable from other signifiers such as phrases from the brand slogan, colours and typeface used. This suggests that the Loi Évin had an impact on the presence of alcohol marketing at the tournament, by ensuring brand names were for the most part not shown, but still represents a circumvention of the regulations as these references were paid-for media as part of the sponsorship rights afforded to Carlsberg.
Although it was indirect references that appeared most frequently and in highly visible locations, the results also show that subtle and consumer-endorsed marketing practices were used to directly promote alcohol brands during the tournament, particularly through merchandise or products in the stadium crowds. Such references present unique challenges to enforcing marketing regulations because, although they are intentional marketing, their appearance in broadcasts is underpinned by individual consumer decisions. For example, during the tournament Carlsberg’s Icelandic distributor reportedly arranged to sell customized Iceland national team shirts with the brand’s logo prominent [37
]. These branded shirts then featured prominently on supporters in the crowds during broadcasts of high-profile matches, including those of particular interest to UK audiences (England versus Iceland) and audiences in the host country (France versus Iceland). Other examples included branded beer cups (as a 0.5% version of Carlsberg was available in the stadiums), replica football jerseys for football clubs which have an alcohol sponsor (e.g., an Everton shirt with Chang beer), and Carlsberg-branded wigs with hair coloured to match nations’ flags.
The Loi Évin has had previous success in restricting alcohol marketing in sports tournaments, including the 1998 FIFA World Cup [39
] and 2007 Rugby World Cup [40
]. Despite these previous tough stances, there is recent evidence of indirect alcohol marketing appearing again at sporting events in France. This has been achieved through “alibi marketing”, a practice that emerged in the 1990s to promote tobacco products within “dark markets” where tobacco advertising was restricted [41
]. Alibi marketing involves distilling a brand identity into its key components (e.g., phrases from a slogan) and using these in place of a conventional logo or name. This strategy has since been adopted by alcohol marketers, with examples including Heineken’s sponsorship of the European Rugby Champions Cup, which was rebranded as the “H Cup” in France [42
], and pitch side advertising during UEFA Champions League games, where Heineken’s usual branded pitch border advertising was replaced in French matches with an “Enjoy Responsibly” message which featured their red star logo on a green background [43
]. Our study therefore provides further evidence of alibi marketing being used in France to promote alcohol. This offers a potential explanation why recent cross-sectional survey research reported that over a third of young people in France recalled seeing alcohol marketing at sporting events and concerts at least once in the past month [11
]. Market research conducted by Carlsberg has confirmed that viewers made the connection between the alibi marketing displayed at the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament and the beer brand. Carlsberg reported that viewer recall of their brand for the tournament was 50 per cent. This was reportedly higher than other sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and that only McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” slogan achieved higher viewer recall than Carlsberg’s “Probably, the best in the world” [44
There are two potential explanations for the presence of alcohol marketing at UEFA EURO 2016. The first is that the Loi Évin is not currently equipped to address alibi marketing. The basis of the law, however, is that the forms of marketing which are allowed are explicitly specified (with sport sponsorship and TV advertising explicitly prohibited), and any form of marketing that is not explicitly stated in the law is still considered to be prohibited [12
]. Therefore, the fact that alibi marketing is not specified in the Loi Évin did not provide a mandate for it to be used at UEFA EURO 2016 and cannot explain the high presence of marketing we found.
The second explanation is that the law is not being correctly enforced or adhered to by marketers. Consistent with this suggestion, we observed that even when marketing did appear, most examples did not comply with other Loi Évin regulations which state that marketing must be restricted to factual information about the product and must contain health warnings. “Probably the best in the world” is not simple factual information about the Carlsberg product and, apart from during the commercial breaks which fell under UK legislation, no health warnings accompanied the marketing (e.g., on pitchside advertising). Previous research suggests that it is not unusual for alcohol sponsorship of sport to not comply with existing national policies during intentional tournaments. For example, an analysis of broadcasts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in eight countries found that advertisements during games contained content which violated self-regulatory codes [45
]. Experiences at other international football tournaments, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the scheduled 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia suggest that existing policies can be diluted to coincide with major tournaments [46
The alcohol industry has defended their marketing activity at UEFA EURO 2016. Carlsberg, the brand whose slogan appeared in most of the marketing references recorded, have stated that they comply with the legal requirements of all countries in which they operate and strictly applied the Loi Évin law by not advertising their beer brands and did not link their partnership to alcohol [49
]. This defence, however, has been contested by the Association Nationale de Prevention en Alcoologie et Addictologie, an organization who address alcohol-related harm in France, who are intending to pursue legal action against the brands whose marketing appeared at the tournament [51
Limitations and Future Directions
The coding framework we used showed high inter-rater reliability, which indicates that the results are likely to be reliable. Nevertheless, the study does have three limitations. First, this study expanded on the coding frameworks used in previous studies to explore where, what and how alcohol marketing references were made. Although these amendments provide greater detail about marketing (for example, regarding the number of identical references that appeared at any one time and the duration they were on the screen), the change in coding procedure means that the findings cannot be directly compared to the frequency of references in the previous tournament, UEFA EURO 2012 [16
]. As the previous tournament was held in Poland and Ukraine, where the regulations on alcohol marketing are not as strong as in France [10
], use of an identical coding protocol would have provided a quasi-experimental means of evaluating to what extent, if at all, the Loi Évin reduced the presence of marketing. Future studies should consider using standardised coding procedures to evaluate marketing across sporting tournaments to enable objective comparisons between countries with different regulatory approaches.
Second, this study only considered UK broadcasts of UEFA EURO 2016. While the in-play footage was identical in all countries, as all international broadcasters joined a central UEFA feed before the match kicked off [33
], almost 40% of the references appeared in out-of-play segments (e.g., pre-match, half-time and post-match). As regional broadcasters have greater autonomy over these segments, the results cannot be generalised to other countries. Future research should therefore focus on broadcasts of the same matches in different countries, to understand the impact of country-specific regulatory approaches (e.g., commercial advertising breaks are not permitted in France, whereas they were in the UK).
Third, as this study only considered an international football tournament, the findings may not be generalizable to other forms of televised football. For example, sponsor logos were not permitted on the players’ match shirts during the tournament (although “Carlsberg” logos were observed on replica Icelandic national team shirts worn by supporters in the crowd). As shirt sponsorship is permitted in many club-level competitions, such as England’s Premier League, it is possible that the frequency of marketing references may be greater in broadcasts of these matches [23
]. Future research should therefore explore how the frequency, volume and type of alcohol marketing references differs between international and national-level sporting events and the potential implications this has for exposure.