Three critical, confusing and contradictory NRL State of Origin sponsorship announcements were made in the past three weeks.
First, Carlton United Breweries walked away from its VB deal with the NSW Blues. Then last week Lion announced XXXX branding would no longer have naming rights or feature on the Queensland Maroons jumpers next year. But before we could celebrate, today we witness the unexpected and unwanted revival of the Tooheys / Blues sponsorship.
After pulling its funding of the Wallabies rugby team, Lion has pounced on the opportunity for its brand Tooheys to re-appear on the Blues’ Origin jersey from next year.
This means that despite Lion withdrawing its XXXX jersey naming rights from the Maroons, it now holds an unequivocal monopoly in the NRL – and looks set to keep pride of place for Origin matches for the foreseeable future.
Combined, these announcements are a reminder that sports sponsorship is an often hostile and constantly changing space. Far from progress, it seems Queensland’s Maroons and the NSW Blues have simply become Lion’s play things.
Lion’s return to the Blues is a disappointing yet important lesson that we cannot trust alcohol brands, some of the most powerful sponsors of Australian sport, to do the responsible thing.
The alcohol industry and the NRL refuse to acknowledge the associated health and social risks of alcohol sponsorship in sport, and to act accordingly.
It’s impossible not to see Lions’ recent announcement as one step forward, and two steps backward in the quest for Booze Free Sport.
Yet we remain optimistic about the influence community-led campaigns have in creating positive change.
Victory will not come over night. But we are confident that more #BoozeFreeSport fans, and continued campaigning and commitment, will ultimately contribute to an end to alcohol sponsorship in sport.
Become a #BoozeFreeSport fan today! Register at fare.org.au/boozefreesport/.