A new analysis of alcohol marketing in the Rugby Six Nations World Cup in 2020 depicts how different regulations of alcohol sport sponsorship and marketing in the United Kingdom (UK), the Republic of Ireland and France play out in real-world situations.
This analysis found that alcohol advertising was pervasive in all of the four analyzed matches despite differing regulations. The only difference was the prevalence of advertising and the use of explicit vs. alibi marketing.

European countries have various regulations regarding alcohol sport sponsorship and advertising during sporting events. The European-wide tournament Six Nations Rugby World Cup is an opportunity to analyze how the different alcohol marketing regulations are implemented in real-world situations.

To that end, Dr. Richard I. Purves and Dr. Nathan Critchlow of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, University of Stirling analyzed alcohol advertising in the 2020 Six Nations Rugby World Cup. The report was prepared for the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI).

The study looked at a sample of four matches that were broadcast on UK television. This included two matches played in Ireland (vs. Scotland and vs. Wales), one played in Scotland (UK) (vs. England), as well as one played in France (vs. England). All matches were played before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the tournament to be postponed and latterly completed without spectators present in stadiums.

The study examined:

  1. The frequency and nature of alcohol marketing during the tournament;
  2. How Ireland’s impending restrictions may influence alcohol marketing practice during televised sport; and
  3. To what extent France’s Évin Law impacts on the frequency and nature of alcohol marketing during the tournament.

Big Alcohol advertising pervasive in all matches despite different country regulations

The United Kingdom (UK), the Republic of Ireland and France all have different regulations for alcohol sports sponsorship and advertising.

  • France’s Évin Law prohibits alcohol sports sponsorship;
  • The Republic of Ireland will soon introduce new controls that partially prohibit alcohol advertising in (or on) the sporting area; and
  • The United Kingdom (UK) has a permissive self-regulatory approach. 

The analysis found that alcohol advertising was pervasive in all four matches. It only differs in how much explicit or ‘alibi’ marketing was used by the alcohol industry.

  • The two matches played in Ireland had 1,444 references to alcohol.
    • There were 690 references (3.8 per minute or once every 16 seconds) during the match with Scotland; and
    • 754 references (4.0 per minute or once every 15 seconds) in the Wales match.
  • The match in Scotland had 961 references to alcohol in the match against England. This equates to 5.1 per minute or once every 12 seconds.
Every 15 seconds
There was an alcohol reference during the Rugby Six Nations match in Ireland vs. Wales
There were 754 alcohol references or once every 15 seconds in the Rugby Six Nations World Cup match in Ireland vs. Wales.
Every 12 seconds
There was an alcohol reference during the Rugby Six Nations match in Scotland vs. England
There were 961 references to alcohol or once every 12 seconds in the match played in Scotland vs. England.
  • In France, there were 193 references to alcohol in their match against England. This equated, on average, to 1.2 references a minute across the broadcast, or once every 50 seconds.
    • 88.1% of all alcohol references in the game played in France were alibi marketing. For example, the brand name ‘Guinness’ was switched with ‘Greatness’ using the same branding (font and colors).
  • In Ireland and Scotland, almost all alcohol references contained explicit branding, whereas most references in France were alibi marketing.
Alcohol references in the Rugby Six Nations match in France were alibi marketing
In Ireland and Scotland, almost all alcohol references contained explicit branding, whereas most references in France (88.1%) were alibi marketing. For example the brand name ‘Guinness’ was switched with ‘Greatness’ using the same branding (font and colors).
  • In all four broadcasts, and in all three countries, references were mostly observed during the match and in high-profile locations, including large static logos in the middle of the pitch and logos on the match equipment (e.g., on the ball and goal posts).
  • In all four broadcasts, no references contained age restriction warnings and only a minority had clearly visible low-risk alcohol use messages.

France’s Evin Law prohibits alcohol sport sponsorship in France. This regulation prohibits alibi marketing as well since it prohibits “advertising [that] by its design, use of a name, trademark, advertising emblem or other distinctive sign, recalls an alcoholic beverage.” However, the alcohol industry has been violating the Evin Law through alibi marketing for many years.

The Big Alcohol strategy of alibi marketing poses a threat to the improvements of alcohol legilsation in Ireland which will prohibit alcohol advertising in sports areas during sports events. This provision of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland which was adopted in 2018, will come into force from November, 2021.

Alcohol Action Ireland has called on the Government to ensure the practice of alibi marketing does not spread to Ireland.

This is a great opportunity for Ireland to implement a public health policy that will reduce alcohol advertising exposure to children,” said Dr. Sheila Gilheany, chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland, as per The Irish Times.

As this report highlights, the Irish Government and public health officials need to be wary of the current loopholes we see in the French approach, and ensure our regulations protect against this.”

Dr. Sheila Gilheany, chief executive, Alcohol Action Ireland

Additionally, the new law in Ireland will only prohibit advertising in the sporting area, but this analysis shows that alcohol marketing already appears in a variety of other locations for example pitch side advertising and advertising placed around the stadium structure. These places, which fall outside the sporting area stipulated by Ireland’s impending controls, will provide high-profile opportunities to either preserve or displace marketing activity.

Key recommendations from the report to protect children from alcohol in sports

Alcohol advertising in sports is a strategy used by the alcohol industry to normalize alcohol use and associate alcohol – an unhealthy substance – with sports – a health promoting activity.

Scientific research has found that exposing people to an alcohol brand, and more strongly to a mainstream alcohol brand, such as done in alcohol marketing in sports, leads to more positive attitudes towards alcohol more generally.

Elite sports stars like pro-footballer Paul Pogba have taken action to reject Big Alcohol from hijacking their image and the sport they love for unhealthy marketing.

This report gives three key recommendations to stop the harm caused by the alcohol industry’s sports marketing:

  • Adopting more robust alcohol marketing regulations to ensure no children are exposed to direct alcohol advertising during events of this scale.
  • Preventing loophole approaches from alcohol companies which allow ‘alibi marketing’ tactics to continue to market products indirectly.
  • Limiting the marketing of alcohol and implementing a ban on sports sponsorship in Scotland to protect minors from exposure to harmful products and to break the link between alcohol and sports.


SHAAP: “Alcohol marketing during the 2020 Six Nations Championship

Independent.ie: “Alcohol ads on-screen ‘every 15 seconds’ at rugby game

The Irish Times: “Six Nations: Alcohol referenced on TV every 15 seconds during Ireland v Scotland

The Times: “Alcohol adverts seen every 12 seconds in Six Nations match