Children and families should be able to enjoy sport free from the advertising that alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food companies use to promote harmful products.
VicHealth promotes participation in community sport as a way for people to be active, healthy and socially connected. Yet many sporting organisations and competitions have sponsorship arrangements with brands and companies who profit from products that are harmful to health and wellbeing including alcohol, unhealthy food, sugary drinks and gambling.
VicHealth wants to make healthy sponsorship the norm across Victorian community sport, including clubs, leagues/associations, participation programs/competitions, sport governing bodies such as State Sporting Associations and elite sport teams.
From 1 September 2020, when you apply for VicHealth funding, you may be required to complete a harmful industry relationship declaration (in most cases, if the funding amount is $35,000 or greater).
For more information about VicHealth’s Harmful Industry Relationships Policy - what you need to declare and how it will be assessed, click here
Why do we care?
Ideally, children and families should be able to enjoy sport free from the advertising that alcohol, gambling and unhealthy food companies use to promote harmful products.
VicHealth has supported and invested in the Victorian sport sector over our 30 year history. Over this time, there has been an increase in the number of sport sponsorship arrangements with industries that profit from harmful products.
Sports sponsorship is one of many ways that harmful industries promote their products to drive sales. And it works – research has shown that the marketing of these products influences people’s consumption, attitudes and behaviours. It also makes these harmful brands and products much more recognisable across the community.
Too often when children participate in or watch community sport, it is in facilities adorned with marketing for harmful products, and where fast food vouchers are used as rewards for participating. A 2016 study of Australian junior development programs receiving funding from the Australian Sports Commission found that harmful industries were exposing children to their brands through sponsorship deals in 7 of the 8 sports.[i]
A 2019 VicHealth/Deakin University audit across the top eight Victorian junior sports codes with the highest participation among Victorian boys and girls aged 5-14 years found that:
more than one third of all clubs accepted harmful sponsorship
harmful sponsorship was more common in rural and regional Victoria compared to metropolitan Melbourne.
Harmful sponsorship arrangements have also become more sophisticated. They are no longer limited to signage and banners in sport facilities, but span across many aspects of the sport experience.
The way in which these harmful sponsors are targeting families and children has also shifted to digital platforms by accessing club membership lists, targeted advertising on social media, through email communications, using athletes as influencers and brand ambassadors, player sponsorships, digital TV streaming and sponsoring virtual sport.
As sporting organisations and governing bodies already promote health through physical activity, they are uniquely positioned to promote health in other ways by creating healthy sporting environments free from the marketing of harmful products. There are also benefits for sporting organisations, including a positive culture that supports health and wellbeing, and being recognised as a club with family-friendly values within the community.
Healthy sporting partnerships – creating a new normal
VicHealth wants to support sporting organisations to strengthen the health and wellbeing of their members, participants and community by prioritising healthy sponsorship arrangements.
VicHealth understands that the financial support received through sponsorship can be important to the operations of sport organisations. However, at the local club level, sponsorship arrangements with industries that promote harmful products often contribute only a fraction of income – but in return provide significant promotional benefits to commercial industries and potential harm to the community.
It’s important to carefully weigh up the benefits of harmful industry sponsorship against the risks.
Some things you might like to consider when deciding on a new sponsorship:
Does the sponsor promote a product or behaviour that is harmful to health and wellbeing?
Who is the sponsor trying to reach with their brand/product/message?
Do the values and purpose of your organisation align with these sponsor values or messages?
What is the main message that the sponsor sends to members, the broader community, and other potential sponsors?
Are there sponsorship options within your community that do not promote the consumption of a harmful product? For example, health providers and practitioners i.e. physiotherapy or osteopathy practice, real estate agents, gardening or landscaping business, local water authorities, other retail outlets, trades businesses.
Managing the risk from harmful industry sponsorship arrangements
As commercial businesses, industries that produce and promote harmful products will almost always want something in return for providing financial or in-kind support to a sporting organisation. When entering into an arrangement with a company or brand that promotes a harmful product, there are two things to be mindful of: (1) the sponsor itself, and (2) the marketing practices they intend to use and who they are trying to reach.
Harmful sponsors that are more likely to pose a greater risk to health and wellbeing include unhealthy food, sugary drink, alcohol and gambling companies/organisations that:
are a nationally or state recognised brand
are advertised widely on mass media
are solely or predominantly associated with a harmful product.
There are some ways that harmful industries promote their brand/product that are more harmful than others because of the exposure that it provides. Practices that pose greater risk to health and wellbeing of children and communities include:
naming rights of events, competitions or clubs
branding on uniforms and equipment – particularly in children’s sport
banners and signage displayed across the facility/ground/stadium
extensive branding on website, social media and communication materials (e.g. newsletters)
access to club databases for direct marketing to members
distribution of branded merchandise, free unhealthy products, vouchers or incentives.
If a sporting organisation is considering sponsorship from a harmful industry, it’s important to seek to minimise the potential harm to health and wellbeing. Sports can do this by putting in place some boundaries when entering into a sponsorship agreement with a harmful brand or company.
This may include:
not activating harmful brands during junior events
acknowledging the harmful sponsor verbally or by text-only on social media or websites, rather than displaying their logo or product.
[i] W Watson, R Brunner, L Wellard, C Hughes. Sponsorship of junior sport development programs in Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2016;40:326-8.