Fans call for AFL to dump gambling advertising

Gambling advertising has overtaken rule changes and umpiring as the most common concern for AFL fans, who have voted overwhelmingly for a tobacco-style ban on advertising at grounds and on TV.

However, umpiring and rule changes remain the fans’ No.1 gripe, despite only minor tweaks to the interpretation of some rules in recent seasons.

Jan Sampson (centre) with her auntie Nola Gray (left), mother Irene Lang and teenage son Cooper. They’re all members of the Demon army, and Jan took part in the AFL Fans Association survey.Credit:Penny Stephens

The annual AFL Fans Association survey, revealed exclusively by The Age, found 47 per cent of the almost 3000 respondents nominated gambling advertising when asked to select all their concerns from a list, with umpiring, the cost of going to the footy and scheduling/floating fixture coming in next.

Separately, the fans were asked to select their No.1 concern from a list, with 18 per cent declaring umpiring and rule changes their biggest bugbear. The AFL has introduced a fourth umpire for the 2023 season in an effort to improve standards and extend the careers of umpires.

Rule tweaks for the coming season include not paying a 50-metre penalty when players try to suck an opponent into breaking the mark by faking a handball.

More than 70 per cent of fans said gambling ads should be banned from grounds and TV broadcasts, and 67 per cent said clubs should not make money from pokies or gambling companies.

AFLFA president Ron Issko said it was time for the AFL, broadcasters and fans to discuss how best to ease the proliferation of gambling advertising.

“We are calling on the AFL and various stakeholders about a planned approach. It’s probably a little bit naive to think they could change it overnight, but, realistically, if we sit down and discuss a planned approach to reduce the ads over a period of time, to eventually get rid of the ads, that is a very mature approach – and fans would appreciate it,” Issko said.

Issko said the AFLFA “was not a financial expert”, but could help the AFL devise areas to recoup the lost revenue. The AFL, for instance, has a five-year sponsorship deal with Sportsbet which began in 2020. While it costs Sportsbet up to $15 million a year, The Age has reported that the AFL only receives between $6 million to $8 million of that. Of that amount, 28 per cent goes to players.

Melbourne forward Ben Brown is among the high-profile stars who have opted out of AFL-authorised promotions of Sportsbet.

In a statement, the AFL said official relationships with wagering companies helped to strengthen integrity measures.

Relationships with wagering companies allow the AFL to invest in robust integrity measures to monitor wagering on our game, as well as to invest back into our game at all levels,” the AFL spokesman said.

“The AFL has strict restrictions surrounding the times that gambling advertising is permitted, and have reduced the amount of wagering branding and signage at grounds.

“All players, coaches and officials are not permitted to encourage, induce, advertise or promote betting on the AFL.”

The AFLFA survey confirmed “gambling ads have now surpassed umpiring/rule changes as the most common concern of AFL fans”.

“In addition to the recognised issues of problem gamblers destroying families, there is concern about the normalisation and grooming of children as future gamblers due to the sheer volume of gambling advertising,” the survey said.

“Fans are most concerned that the bombardment of gambling advertising for their kids watching football is grooming them as future gamblers and normalising gambling. Whilst there is some recognition of the need for responsible gambling and fans’ right to gamble of AFL if they wish, there is a clear consensus that the volume of gambling advertising is morally inappropriate and should be banned given the social and family impacts.”

Melbourne supporter Jan Sampson, who participated in the survey, told The Age sports and broadcasters straddled a difficult line.

“I am concerned about the prevalence of gambling advertising that surrounds not just the AFL but sport in general at the moment,” Sampson said.

“Gambling sponsorship is a necessary evil to keep the game running, which make campaigns such as ‘Love the game, not the odds’ so important. Luckily, my ‘sport mad’ teenage son isn’t influenced by the sometimes constant stream of gambling advertising.”

The survey also found 79 per cent said gambling advertising should be banned from grounds, 76 per cent want it banned from broadcasting, and 62 per cent said the AFL should not receive any revenue from gambling advertising.

The survey results come as the AFL, NRL and other major sporting bodies are on a collision course with governments over tighter rules on sports betting advertising.

Credit:Matt Golding

Labor MP Peta Murphy, chair of the parliamentary inquiry into societal damage caused by online betting, said sports were failing to grasp the concerns of the public and experts.

Australians lost about $25 billion on all forms of gambling, including pokies, in 2018-19, according to estimates from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

However, the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, which represents the football codes as well as Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia, insists betting on live sport is a legitimate Australian past-time.

Free TV Australia, representing the major television companies, including Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, says retaining key sports on free-to-air will be more difficult if gambling advertisements were slashed or banned.

Umpiring again featured as a big concern for AFL fans.Credit:Getty Images

Gambling ads cannot be shown during live sports events until 8.30pm, though betting firms use half-time and other breaks to advertise. Advertising is also banned between 4pm and 7pm during shows rated C, P or G, but news and current affairs programs are excluded.

In its submission to the parliamentary inquiry, the South Australian government produced data showing 85 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds watch sport after 8.30pm, when gambling ads are permitted. Victoria has not made a submission.

Regarding umpiring and rule changes, the survey found that fans wanted stability.

“When considering all the issues that concern fans, umpiring/rule changes remains the main concern. Qualitative feedback from fans highlights that the frequency of rule changes is very unpopular and makes it difficult to umpire consistently. Like the previous year, the stand rule remains a common concern,” the survey said.

While fans are split on the stand rule, the AFL and clubs believe it has helped to open the game up and generate scoring.

“We have not made rule changes. After one of the best home and away seasons on record with the football being of an incredibly high-quality, we have not made any rule changes in 2023 and only made small interpretation changes to the stand rule and not awarding a 50m if someone breaks the stand and moves when a player fakes to play on or handball,” an AFL spokesman said.

“We have ensured that more of the experienced umpires are able to continue to umpire by introducing a four-umpire system that will reduce the load on umpires and allow the best decision-makers to remain in the game for longer.”

Issko said only time would tell if the shift this season to four on-field umpires would help in decision-making.

Of the 2924 responses received by the AFLFA, 80 per cent of respondents were club members, 24 per cent were members of the AFLFA, while 51 per cent of respondents live outside of Victoria.

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