As everyone prepares for the AFL Grand Final this Saturday, in what is likely to be a tough competition between the GWS Giants and the Richmond Tigers, one team is already a clear winner.
In 2019, the Tigers are once again the only AFL team with no unhealthy sponsors. Given their performance this season, it has become apparent that alcohol, gambling, and junk food sponsors aren’t necessary for a team to do well on the field.
Over the last three years, the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA) has reviewed the sponsors of all 18 AFL teams to determine the extent of unhealthy sponsorship in the AFL. The 2019 sponsorship ladder, released in partnership with Cancer Council WA, shows 17 out of 18 AFL clubs are sponsored by at least one ‘red’ sponsor. Six of the teams have unhealthy sponsors on their playing uniform. Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t improved over time – Melbourne Football Club’s addition of Johnnie Walker to their uniform this year has increased the number of unhealthy sponsors on uniforms.
Sponsors were classified using a traffic light system as ‘red’ or ‘amber’, depending on how much fat, sugar, salt, and fibre was included in the product. Red sponsors also included companies which promoted alcohol and gambling. Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Carlton Draught are some of the brands most frequently sponsoring teams, with gambling companies such as Neds and TAB Touch also prominent sponsors for a number of clubs.
AFL is a major part of Australian life. Hundreds of thousands of Australian kids watch AFL each year; in 2017, over 350,000 children under the age of 18 watched the AFL Grand Final. Unfortunately, it is a sport that has become saturated with unhealthy sponsorship.
It is little wonder junk food, alcohol, and gambling companies are fighting to sponsor sports teams. Sponsorship of sport offers companies an avenue to expose large audiences, including children and young people, to their brand and promote a connection with that brand.
AFL is awash with alcohol sponsorship, with 16 of the 18 clubs sponsored by alcohol companies. This is of serious concern, given exposure to alcohol marketing impacts on young people’s drinking behaviours.
The evidence shows that sponsorship is effective – research has found that 10- to 14-year-olds think food and drink companies that sponsor their sport club are “cool”. Brand exposure on uniforms also enhances the visibility of unhealthy brand logos, with children encouraged to promote products through the purchase of merchandise. AFL clubs such as the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda prominently feature different junk food brands as sponsors, making their young fans walking billboards for these companies.
The Richmond Tigers may be the only AFL team with no unhealthy sponsors, but there are a growing number of sporting clubs that have turned their backs on unhealthy sponsorship. It was fantastic to see Baseball Australia renounce alcohol advertising and support the End Alcohol Advertising in Sport campaign. There are also examples of sporting clubs in WA prioritising health over profits. Soccer team Perth Glory, West Coast Fever netballers, and the Western Australian Cricket Association have all removed unhealthy sponsors with the help of funding from Healthway.
All children deserve to grow up in a supportive and healthy environment, and it is important for Australian children to associate their sporting heroes with healthy behaviours, not junk food, alcohol, and gambling. With the Richmond Tigers having done so well this year without unhealthy sponsorship, and elite sporting codes like Baseball Australia renouncing alcohol advertising, it is high time all AFL clubs aimed for the top of the sponsorship ladder, not just the premiership ladder.