Tom Waterhouse not to blame for gambling ads

Issue 
A Tom Waterhouse ad.

It seems the one thing all Australians can agree on is that they hate Tom Waterhouse.

It is not much of a surprise, since anyone watching any sporting event is bombarded with ads for his sports betting business prominently featuring his smiling face.

On Channel Nine’s Friday Night Football, Rugby League fans are treated to both a barrage of his ads and live interviews with Waterhouse before the game, at half time and after the game. On top of that, he is given a ten minute advertisement within the coverage itself, where he talks about the odds for the following day’s horse racing.

There is good reason people are getting sick of him. The Australian reported on May 27 that “Tom Waterhouse has lifted his spending on free-to-air television ads by 340% in the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year”

This has been part of a general rise. An advertising monitoring firm “found that the total number of ad spots bought by the top four players in the sector on the main free-to-air capital-city TV channels had surged from 2544 in the first four months of last year to a saturation-level 7173 so far this year.”

There has been concern about the amount of gambling advertising within sport for a while now. It is not just the amount of advertising on the TV networks, the grounds themselves are covered with advertising for the various sports betting agencies, while many teams’ major sponsors are gambling companies.

Somehow, though, it was Waterhouse who took it over the edge, where silent discontent became furious anger. Politicians and sports authorities, forced to deal with this anger, have mostly blamed Waterhouse to take the heat off themselves.

In a clear reference to Waterhouse and Channel Nine, AFL CEO Andrew Demetreou said “We're all paying the price of an outrageous advertising campaign by one individual whose got in people's faces and they are absolutely entitled to be outraged by that," he said.

"I think one network didn't cover themselves in glory either in the way they've promoted live gambling.”

But there is a general rise in advertising, not just from Waterhouse, and the government and sporting authorities cannot be absolved completely from responsibility.

In the very same statement, according to the Herald Sun “the AFL believed the self-regulating measures previously in place had been working well.”

After the expression of anger became much more widespread, governments began to react. The Australian reported on May 27 that “Julia Gillard has cracked down on showing live betting odds during sporting events, relegated gambling advertisements to play breaks and banned bookmakers such as Tom Waterhouse from broadcasting from venues.”

The Prime Minister said the move would be "good news for Australian families" concerned that the penetration of live odds into sporting matches had become "over the top".

The depth of feeling against the rise of sports betting advertisements has meant those most affected by it have been forced to accept it.

The Australian reported on May 27: “Free TV chief executive Julie Flynn said the measures were "unprecedented restrictions for broadcasters", but she said she accepted the government had acted in response to community concern. “We recognise that these are difficult issues and will submit a revised code within the next two weeks in line with the Prime Minister's announcement.”

However, it is important to note that the government is not proposing legislation at this stage but rather asking TV stations to self-regulate in a tighter way.

The bigger question, though, is can sporting clubs survive without revenue from gambling?

The answer isn’t so clear, since many of the clubs aren’t transparent on how reliant they are on gambling. An article in Leading Company reported research by Dr Ross Booth, a senior sports economics lecturer at Monash University, that found in 2008 (the only available data) that: “Total revenue for all AFL clubs in 2008 was $563 million … Gaming revenue was $55.6 million, which is just under 10% … I suspect since then it’s risen as a proportion of revenue.”

People hate the growing influence of gambling companies, yet it is a major source of income for the clubs they support and the TV stations they watch it on. For some clubs, holding onto gambling sponsorship is a matter of financial survival.

The corporate model of sponsorship and ownership has been alluring for so long, but now the dark side of such approach has become clearer.

Football (soccer) in this country has been through the bitter experience of what this model means, with clubs such as the Western Sydney Wanderers looking at part ownership by fans to ensure that survival isn’t linked to the health of one company and one industry.

In what is now the most successful European League, fan ownership is mandated by rules enforced by the football federation. Self-regulation won’t change the dynamics of the corporate model, nor would legislation; the only way forward is for fans to take clubs into their own han

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