Evidence supports a proposed Parliamentary Bill to reduce harm from alcohol sponsorship of sport

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Dr Tim Chambers, Dr Nicki Jackson, Dr Amanda Jones, Dr Jude Ball, Prof Louise Signal, Dr Moira Smith, Christina McKerchar, Prof Janet Hoek (*Author details)

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick recently announced a Member’s Bill to end alcohol sponsorship of sport, acting on recommendations by three Government-commissioned bodies and the World Health Organization. Viable sponsorship replacement models already exist and could easily be implemented to support sporting organisations to transition away from alcohol industry reliance. The Bill, if enacted, will provide comprehensive well-being benefits for all New Zealanders and is an important step in the right direction to improving health equity.

Image from the the Kids’Cam Study

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick recently announced a Member’s Bill to end alcohol sponsorship of sport. The Bill aligns with the recommendations from the 2010 Law Commission review of New Zealand’s alcohol laws,1 the 2014 Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship,2 the 2018 Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry3 and the World Health Organization.4 In this blog, we outline the case for ending alcohol sponsorship of sport and propose a replacement model so that sporting bodies can realise their stated purpose to “contribute to the wellbeing of everybody in Aotearoa, New Zealand (NZ).”5

Alcohol-related harm

Alcohol is a major cause of injuries, violence, crime, suicide, mental illness, cancer and other health conditions, with the burden of alcohol harm falling heavily on low-income communities and Māori. In NZ, an estimated 5.4% of all deaths are attributable to alcohol use, resulting in over 13,000 years of life lost annually.6 Alcohol use is a key driver of health inequities and remains the leading cause of death and lost disability-adjusted life years among New Zealanders aged 15 to 49 years.7

The financial costs of alcohol-related harm are an estimated $7.85 billion each year,8 placing a major burden on NZ’s economy and falling well short of the annual alcohol excise revenue of around $1.1 billion.9

There has been increasing attention given to the need for the NZ Government to fulfil its responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi with regards to alcohol’s longstanding, inequitable impacts. Alcohol availability and advertising is prevalent in many low-income areas where there is a predominately high Māori population.10 It is been argued that the Crown has failed to afford Māori active protection by abdicating its responsibilities for the regulation of advertising standards to the Advertising Standards Authority.10 A Waitangi Tribunal claim within the Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry states that there are numerous and substantial failures by the Crown to reduce the harm from alcohol in Māori communities.11

Alcohol Sponsorship – how does it work?

Sport is emotionally captivating, highly popular with a diverse and broad audience, and generates large media audiences as well as replayed coverage, for example, through news and sports programmes. Alcohol brand exposure occurs frequently via players’ jumpers and sporting fixtures, across the duration of the game.12 Branded promotion that is incidentally presented during events that have high strong and emotional engagement is suggested to be more effective than regular advertising.13

Sports sponsorship utilises this high reach among many population groups by integrating brands into people’s daily lives. Digital media is increasingly used to connect with and engage the audience away from the stadium.14 Less obtrusive than mainstream mass media advertising, sponsorship pairs aspirational attributes associated with sport, such as excitement, excellence, and strength, with specific brands. Over time, the brands take on these meanings. Sports sponsorship also draws heavily on vicarious learning, where young people learn and adopt brands and behaviours they see endorsed by sporting role models.15

Evidence shows that alcohol sponsorship harms both children and athletes. A systematic review of alcohol sponsorship has found that exposure is associated with increased alcohol consumption by children as well as adult sporting participants.16 Regular media reports reinforce the problematic relationship between sports and alcohol, with six Speights Highlanders rugby players being stood down recently for an alcohol-related incident. Alcohol consumption (including alcohol sponsorship) was a key focus in New Zealand Rugby’s Respect and Responsibility Review in 2017.17

Alcohol sports sponsorship is one form of alcohol marketing. It is well-established that exposure to alcohol marketing—including sports sponsorship—contributes to the onset of drinking during adolescence and contributes to binge drinking in young people.18 The existing evidence has led the World Health Organization to recommend an end to alcohol sponsorship.4 In a study utilising wearable cameras on New Zealand children, alcohol sponsorship was a major source of marketing exposure.19 Across all marketing exposures, tamariki Māori and Pasifika children had daily levels of exposure that were five times and three times greater than other children, respectively.

Figure 1. Child wearing alcohol sponsorship from the Kids’Cam Study

In New Zealand, alcohol sponsorship guidelines are issued by the advertising industry-led Advertising Standards Authority, via the Advertising and Promotion of Alcohol Code.20 This Code condones alcohol sponsorship arrangements in circumstances where the expected audience is 80% or more adults. In addition, any mention or portrayal (orally and/or visually) of the alcohol advertiser’s name/brand/logo must be done so in a subordinate manner (as a guide, no more than 15% of the space/time available). For many popular rugby games, this results in repeated alcohol marketing exposure (through multiple media channels) to over one million New Zealanders, including hundreds of thousands of children.

It is important to note that New Zealanders are supportive of an end to alcohol sponsorship. The 2019/20 Alcohol Use in New Zealand Survey conducted by the Health Promotion Agency found that three in five (62%) respondents supported banning alcohol sponsorship at sporting, community and other events that under 18-year-olds go to.21

Supporting clubs away from reliance on alcohol industry funds

In 2014, the total value of alcohol sponsorship of sport in New Zealand was estimated at $21.3 million, with $13.8 million in direct cash contributions.22 Approximately 75% of total funds went to rugby union.

There is evidence to suggest that ending alcohol sponsorship of sport would open up alternative channels for financial support of sport. In Australia, sponsorship revenue increased by 45% over the four years following an end to tobacco sponsorship.23 A UK simulation of a ban on alcohol and gambling sponsorship estimated that 84% of lost revenues would be replaced immediately by other sponsors.24 The substitution effect is largely due to new companies entering the sports sponsorship market, sport sponsorship revenue continuing to increase year-on-year, increasing global exposure of sports via digital technologies and emerging sports providing large potential for return-on-investment.25 An example of this is the New Zealand Warriors no longer having the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Woodstock brand on their playing sleeve, being replaced by a sponsorship contract with major broadcaster and listed corporation Sky Sport.

The Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship recommended that a targeted and funded programme be introduced to minimise the impact of lost sponsorship on community sporting clubs’ sustainability. The programme would develop the capacity and skills among clubs to generate alternate non-alcohol sponsorship funding. In lieu of sponsorship substitution, the Government could replace all alcohol sports sponsorship by recycling 2.3% of the revenue generated via the existing alcohol excise tax.22,26 Alternatively, the existing Health Promotion Agency levy on all alcohol sold (for the purposes of alcohol harm reduction activities) could be increased to fund temporary replacement as well as assistance to clubs to identify alternative sponsorship support. To buy out sponsorship, the levy would need to increase by 2c on a can of beer, 2c on an RTD, 5c on a bottle of wine and 6c to a bottle of spirits.

Other countries have shown leadership on this issue. For many years, France and Norway have prohibited sports sponsorship by alcohol companies. In 2018, Ireland passed legislation that includes a partial ban on sponsorship. Alongside this change, there will be no alcohol advertising at any sporting area in Ireland from November 2021.27 Closer to home in Western Australia, alcohol sports sponsorship of community-level football (Aussie rules) has recently been replaced as a means to improve men’s mental health.28


International best evidence suggests the Bill needs to:

  • End alcohol sponsorship of sport at all levels
  • Utilise the widest possible definition of sport to ensure it captures emerging sports like Esports.
  • Establish a sponsorship replacement system to support sports organisations to sustainably transition away from alcohol sponsorship.
  • Include few exemptions for international sporting events.
  • Include all alcohol-sponsored events, including music and other social events.

The Bill must be viewed as the first step towards implementation of comprehensive restrictions across all alcohol marketing, as currently occurs for tobacco and vaping advertising in New Zealand.


Ending alcohol sponsorship of sport has been consistently recommended by three Government-commissioned bodies. Fears that sport would fold in the absence of alcohol sponsorship are not supported by historical precedent or impact evaluations. Viable sponsorship replacement models already exist and could easily be implemented to support sporting organisations to transition away from alcohol industry reliance. The Bill, if enacted, will provide comprehensive well-being benefits for all New Zealanders and is an important step in the right direction to improving health equity. It’s a win-win.

*Author positions: Chambers, Jones, Smith and Ball are Senior Research Fellows and Signal and Hoek are Professors in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington. McKerchar is a Lecturer at the Department of Population Health, University of Otago, Christchurch. Jackson is the Director of Alcohol Healthwatch.


  1. New Zealand Law Commission. Alcohol in our lives curbing the harm: a report on the review of the regulatory framework for the sale and supply of liquor. Wellington (NZL): New Zealand Law Commission;2010. Accessed 14 May 2021. http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/projectAvailableFormats/NZLC%20R114.pdf.
  2. Ministry of Health. Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship: recommendations on alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Wellington (NZL): Ministry of Health;2014. Accessed 14 May 2021. http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/ministerial-forum-on-alcohol-advertising-and-sponsorship-recommendations-on-alcohol-advertising-and-sponsorship-dec14.pdf.
  3. Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. Wellington (NZL)2018. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://mentalhealth.inquiry.govt.nz/assets/Summary-reports/He-Ara-Oranga.pdf.
  4. World Health Organization. SAFER: A world free from alcohol related harms. Geneva (CHE): World Health Organization;2018. Accessed 14 May 2021. https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/safer/msb_safer_brochure.pdf?ua=1.
  5. Sport New Zealand. Who we are and what we do. Online: Sport New Zealand;2021. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://sportnz.org.nz/about/who-we-are/.
  6. Connor J, Kydd R, Shield K, Rehm J. The burden of disease and injury attributable to alcohol in New Zealanders under 80 years of age: marked disparities by ethnicity and sex. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2015;128(1409):15-28.
  7. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global burden of disease study (GBD 2019), New Zealand. Online: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2020. Accessed 18 May 2021. http://www.healthdata.org/gbd
  8. Nana G. Alcohol costs: But who pays? Paper presented at: Alcohol Action Conference 2018: Who should pay for all the harm from alcohol2018; Wellington, New Zealand.
  9. The Treasury. Tax Outturn Data – March 2021: Monthly History. Online: The Treasury;2021. Accessed 19 May 2021. https://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/tax-outturn-data/tax-outturn-data-march-2021.
  10. Ratu R. Regulation urgently needed to protect Māori from alcohol advertising. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2019. https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2019/vol-132-no-1500-16-august-2019/7969.
  11. Ministry of Justice. Wai 2575—The Health Services and Outcomes Inquiry. Wellington (NZL): Ministry of Justice; (n.d.). Accessed 18 May 2021. https://www.waitangitribunal.govt.nz/inquiries/kaupapa-inquiries/health-services-and-outcomes-inquiry/.
  12. Chambers T, Signal L, Carter M-A, McConville S, Wong R, Zhu W. Alcohol sponsorship of a summer of sport: a frequency analysis of alcohol marketing during major sports events on New Zealand television. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2017;130.
  13. Harvey B, Gray S, Despain G. Measuring the effectiveness of true sponsorship. Journal of Advertising Research. 2006;46(4):398-409. https://doi.org/10.2501/S0021849906060478
  14. Carah N, Brodmerkel S. Alcohol marketing in the era of digital media platforms. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2021;82(1):18-27. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2021.82.18
  15. Carter M-A, Signal L, Edwards R, Hoek J, Maher A. Food, fizzy, and football: promoting unhealthy food and beverages through sport-a New Zealand case study. BMC Public Health. 2013;13(1):1-7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-126
  16. Brown K. Association between alcohol sports sponsorship and consumption: A systematic review. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2016;51(6):747-755. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agw006
  17. Cockburn R, Atkinson L. Respect and Responsibility Review. . Wellinton (NZL): New Zealand Rugby;2017. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://www.nzrugby.co.nz/assets/NZR-RRR-Summary-Document.pdf.
  18. Sargent JD, Babor TF. The relationship between exposure to alcohol marketing and underage drinking is causal. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement. 2020(s19):113-124. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsads.2020.s19.113
  19. Chambers T, Stanley J, Signal L, Pearson AL, Smith M, Barr M et al. Quantifying the nature and extent of children’s real-time exposure to alcohol marketing in their everyday lives using wearable cameras: Children’s exposure via a range of media in a range of key places. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2018;53(5):626-633. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agy053
  20. Advertising Standards Authority. Alcohol Advertising and Promotion Code. Online: Advertising Standards Authority; 2021. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://www.asa.co.nz/codes/codes/alcohol-advertising-and-promotion-code/.
  21. Health Promotion Agency. Public attitudes on policy interventions to reduce alcohol harm: Results from the 2019/20 Alcohol Use in New Zealand Survey. Wellington (NZL): Health Promotion Agency; 2021. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://www.hpa.org.nz/research-library/research-publications/public-attitudes-on-policy-interventions-to-reduce-alcohol-harm-results-from-the-2019-20-alcohol-use.
  22. Sport New Zealand. An estimation of the value of alcohol sponsorship in New Zealand. Wellington (NZL): Sport New Zealand;2015. Accessed.
  23. World Health Organization. Tobacco-free sports: play it clean. Geneva (CHE): World Health Organization;2002. Accessed 14 May 2021. https://www.who.int/tobacco/resources/publications/wntd/2002/en/web_version.pdf
  24. Yang Y, Goldfarb A. Banning controversial sponsors: Understanding equilibrium outcomes when sports sponsorships are viewed as two-sided matches. Journal of Marketing Research. 2015;52(5):593-615. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0225
  25. Deloitte. Sponsoring sports in today’s digital age. 2019. Accessed 14 May 2021. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/lu/Documents/sports-consulting/lu-sponsoring-sports-today-digital-age.pdf.
  26. Alcohol Healthwatch. Submission to the Tax Working Group on the background paper – Future of Tax Auckland (NZL): Alcohol Healthwatch; 2018. Accessed 14 May 2021. https://taxworkinggroup.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2018-09/twg-subm-3983360-alcohol-health-watch.pdf.
  27. The Oireachtas. Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. Ireland2018. Accessed 18 May 2021. http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2018/act/24/enacted/en/html.
  28. Ministry of Sport. 150 Western Australian Country Football Clubs To Receive Mental Health Support. Perth (AUS): Ministry of Sport;2019. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://ministryofsport.com.au/150-western-australian-country-football-clubs-to-receive-mental-health-support/.


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6 thoughts on “Evidence supports a proposed Parliamentary Bill to reduce harm from alcohol sponsorship of sport

  1. Ending sports sponsorship by sugary drinks and junk food companies also needs to be considered. Otherwise these (or other) harmful commodities will fill the gap that alcohol sponsorship did when tobacco was banned.

  2. Great article; it would also be good if the advertising that was allowed (outside of sports etc.) was prohibited from glamourising alcohol – advertise the product, not its assocaition with desirable things, people, events or activites.

  3. Thank you very much to all authors for outlining the evidence supporting ending alcohol sponsorship in sport.
    May I please, respectfully, ask you to rethink how you begin this paper and its precise?
    By beginning with Green MP, this paper inadvertently closes the door to potential support from people who are opposed to the Green Party. It might sound silly but hear me out. There are National Party people and even MPs who are aware of harm arising from alcohol misuse and who are interested to help reduce these harms. Some of these people will stop being open minded if they see Green MP in a prominent position. Note, I am not decrying the importance of the advocacy of the Green Party or Chloe Swarbrick. Their advocacy is an important part of the change process.
    What I am asking the writers to think about is wouldn’t you rather leave the door open to people who are from the right side of politics and who see a need for change?
    I hope this makes sense and I hope I haven’t offended anyone by asking.
    I am writing from South Auckland where, as you know, we have a lot of people who see a pressing need to reduce alcohol availability and alcohol harm.
    Thank you

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