Alcohol and sport sponsorship is a toxic marriage, an ill-fitting and dangerous partnership. Like sport and tobacco sponsorship before it, it is anachronism; a throwback to a less enlightened era.
In 2017, alcohol and sport sponsorship finds itself out of time and out of step with community standards. It is simply not in the interests of fans, and players alike. The writing is on the wall. It has been for many years now.
So it’s no surprise that Carlton United Breweries (CUB) has walked away from a 20-year relationship with Cricket Australia, reportedly following increased pressure from lobby groups and health professionals.
A CUB representative claims the decision was “purely commercial”. That’s to say CUB recognised the commercial reality. That aligning its alcohol product to the game of cricket was now doing more harm to its brand than good.
The problem wasn’t simply that CUB was exposing millions of cricket loving Aussie children to alcohol advertising. After all, CUB’s been doing that shamelessly for twenty years.
The problem for CUB was that it was now being relentlessly criticised for doing so, in the face of scientific evidence showing such exposure to alcohol advertising is proven harmful to children.
CUB could see what Cricket Australia still refuse to acknowledge and accept: in 2017, alcohol has no place in sport sponsorship.
So dependent on big alcohol’s blood money, Cricket Australia have wrapped its arms around another alcohol industry suitor – Lion, , the kids be damned.
To date, Cricket Australia’s defence of its toxic addiction to alcohol sponsorship has been weak. In a letter to the Foundation for Alcohol research and Education dated 31 January 2017, Cricket Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, James Sutherland sidestepped the adverse impact of alcohol sponsorship on children completely. Instead he chose to emphasise Cricket Australia’s involvement with the alcohol industry apologist, Drinkwise and its most recent campaign – effectively a clever beer advertisement masquerading as a weak message on moderate drinking.
So wedded to alcohol sponsorship, Sutherland point-blank refused to even entertain the idea of an alcohol sponsorship replacement fund. Akin to the tobacco sponsorship replacement funds of their day, such a fund would assist major sports to kick this toxic addiction.
There’s a chance that Cricket Australia is not completely deaf to our concerns.
Notable by its absence, Cricket Australia’s partnership with Lion does not extend to any branding of player clothing.
That we can now look forward to a world where our cricket stars are no longer paraded as walking talking beer billboards is a positive step forward. The National Rugby League, and particularly its State of Origin competition would do well to follow suit.
Of course it may just be that Lion caught Cricket Australia in a moment of weakness, exploited Cricket Australia’s hopeless and venal addiction for money and dictated terms in their favour.
Regardless of how the deal came together, Cricket Australia’s partnership with Lion is disappointing.
For its part, Lion, are 20 years too late to the party. In cricketing parlance, alcohol sponsorship in cricket is nine wickets down, the field up and the quicks back on. It has had its day.
That both Lion and Cricket Australia refuse to accept that, speaks of a damning level of arrogance, and aloofness
Cricket Australia’s duty of care, together with its corporate partners, should, first and foremost, be to the families and children of Australia who support the great game.
While its players may no longer be adorned with alcohol logos, Cricket Australia is still dancing with the devil, and it is the families and children – the fans of this great game, that will suffer as a result.
It’s time for booze free sport.
Michael Thorn, Chief Executive, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education