Spurs suffer Champions League defeat to the Advertising Standards Authority

08 July 2019. Published by Stuart Harris, Associate and Charlie Gould, Trainee Solicitor

Spurs' heartbreak in Madrid was not the only loss they suffered on their Champions League journey this year. A tweet from Spurs announcing their line-up for their knock-out game against Borussia Dortmund featured the gambling operator William Hill, and was ruled to contravene the CAP Code.

The ad

The tweet was challenged by the ASA as the starting line-up contained images of Harry Winks and Davinson Sanchez, who were at the time under the age of 25. The tweet also contained a link to the William Hill website, an image of the gambling operator’s logo and accompanying text which read “Latest odds from @WilliamHill.

Spurs and William Hill contested that Winks and Sanchez were included in the image simply because they were in the starting line-up. They also argued that whilst both players were under 25 years of age, they were neither the centre of attention of the ad nor shown on an individual basis, and were not of more significance to the team than the other players in the image. Finally, they argued that the underage players were in the image alongside the rest of the starting line-up, all of whom were over the age limit of 25.

The decision

The ASA determined that Spurs' tweet had dual purposes: the first was to notify twitter users of the starting line-up; the second, judged to be equally important, was to offer users the chance to bet on the game.

In its decision making process, the ASA considered Rule 16.3.14 of the CAP Code which states that: “no one who is, or seemed to be, under 25 years old may be featured playing a significant role in marketing communications”.

The ASA held that whilst Winks and Sanchez were of no greater significance than the other players in the line-up, each played a 'significant' role in the marketing communication.

The ASA also looked at whether the inclusion of Winks and Sanchez in the tweet fell under the exceptions that:

  1. those under 25 may appear in marketing communications that are located in a place where a bet can actually be made; and

  2. the person under 25 may only be used in those communications to highlight specific betting selections where that person is the subject of the bet offered. The image or depiction used must show them in the context of the bet and not in a gambling context.

As the tweet was from Spurs’ Twitter account and not a transactional facility through which a bet could be placed (such as William Hill’s own website), and the underage players had not been used to illustrate specific betting selections, the ASA found that the ad fell outside the above exceptions and was in breach of the CAP Code.

Comment / practical tips

The ruling shows a strict application of the “significant role” in Rule 16.3.14 of the CAP Code, and shows that gambling operators will need to take into account each individual's age in a marketing communication, even where other individuals are playing significant roles.

If you wish to include an individual that is under the age of 25 in a gambling ad, make sure that the ad is placed in a location where a customer can make a bet, such as the gambling operator's website. Further, where the individual is used, ensure that they are only there to illustrate the particular betting selections where they are the subject of the bet offered and that the image or other portrayal used shows them in the context of the bet and not in the gambling context.

Finally, sponsors and clubs negotiating sponsorship deals should ensure that the sponsorship agreement contains clear restrictions around the sponsor's ability to feature any members of the club's squad in its marketing. It is better to have this conversation up front, both so the sponsor can weigh up the commercial impact that this might have, and so both parties can avoid the practical and reputational damage of an adverse ruling and takedown for running an ad which falls foul of the CAP Code.

The RPC Sports group regularly advises clients on gambling and advertising matters (including recently advising a leading sports betting business in relation to a high profile partnership agreement with a leading Premier League football club). For more information, please contact Stuart Harris or your usual RPC contact.