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Sky Bet “sports noggin” ad crosses line on guaranteeing betting success

Published on 07 November 2019

Can gambling operators imply that a good knowledge of sports may result in betting success?

The key takeaway 

The reason that Sky Bet avoided censure was because they carefully constructed the ad so that it did not make any suggestion that a better sporting knowledge will lead to greater gambling success. Instead, the ad expressly recognised the unpredictable nature of sport.

The ad

On 30 August 2018, the online betting company Sky Bet advertised its “Request a Bet” feature using Sky presenter Jeff Stelling’s narration: 

“Forget ‘anything can happen’, in sport anything does happen. But could it be better? With Request a Bet it could. Spark your sports brain and roll all the possibilities into one bet. Three red cards, seven corners, five goals: let’s price that up. Or browse hundreds of request a bets on our app. The possibilities are humongous. How big is your sports noggin? Sky Bet, Britain’s most popular online bookmaker. When the fun stops, stop.”.

Alongside a collection of odds and statistics, a screen depicted brain waves emerging from Jeff Stelling’s head. 

The complaint 

The BCAP Code, under section 17 (Gambling), states that ads must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm. The ad received two complaints on grounds that it was socially irresponsible; the complainants believed the comments “spark your sports brain” and “how big is your sports noggin?” suggests better sports knowledge results in greater success when gambling.

The response 

Sky Bet argued that the ad did not irresponsibly encourage gambling in a manner that could lead to financial, social or emotional harm. 
They contended that whilst the ad referred to knowledge through the phrases “Spark your sports brain” and “how big is your sports noggin?” within the context of the ad, they were referring to consumers’ ability to formulate a bet using the Sky Bet feature rather than the consumers’ probability of winning the bet. They recognised it is widely accepted that consumers’ sports knowledge may increase betting success. However, the betting company explained that its ad does not indicate the result is that knowledge guarantees success, emphasised by the comments “in sports anything can happen” and “anything does happen”. Further, they believed the ad was consistent with other betting ads where the focus is on the excitement of forming a bet rather than the likelihood of success. Jeff Stelling’s narration does indeed conjure this excitement, offering the consumer a range of possibilities and potential outcomes of the game but not indicating that this would lead to guaranteed success. 

The decision 

Despite initially ruling that the ad was socially irresponsible, the ASA recently reversed its decision on the basis that it did not exaggerate the association between sports knowledge and gambling success, concluding that the ad is not socially irresponsible and as such does not breach the BCAP code. The ASA understood the phrases “spark your sports brain” and “how big is your sports noggin?” as drawing the consumer’s attention to the ability of using sports knowledge when forming a multi-layered bet. Further, they believe Sky Bet recognised the unpredictable nature of sport through the phrase “in sport anything does happen”. 

Why is this important? 

The ASA’s ruling highlights the necessity for marketers producing gambling ads to avoid sending the message that consumers may possess qualities that will enhance their gambling success.

Practical tips 

Whilst SkyBet did indeed recognise that having a “sports noggin” may indeed increase the chance of the consumer as a whole, it is important that advertisers are careful when framing the links between intelligence, knowledge and gambling success. In particular, it would be advisable to explicitly recognise that anything can happen. On a wider basis, this decision is really all about how carefully you frame your copy. Sky Bet did well to weave a path that focussed on the excitement of forming a bet, rather than the likelihood of success. It also worked in neutralising comments such as “in sports anything can happen”. This all reinforces the need to know the rules, and respect them in marketing communications, especially when it comes to (expensive) TV ads in highly regulated markets.