Akinfenwa: just too strong for a gambling ad

The ASA has handed down its latest ruling on the use of footballers in gambling ads, this time examining an ad featuring footballer Adebayo (the Beast) Akinfenwa.

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Background

Akinfenwa, who many, including the ASA it appears, will know for his “impressive physical strength”, appeared in a BetUK radio advert which was broadcast in September 2023.

It was alleged that the ad breached the BCAP Code, which prohibits gambling ads that are likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons. The current rule has existed since 1 October 2022 and is stricter than the previous rule, which required only that gambling ads must not have “particular appeal” to children and young persons. ASA guidance was published alongside the rule to identify particular attributes that place athletes in low, medium and high risk categories in relation to how likely they would be to have appeal to under-18s if they were to feature in a gambling ad.

This is the latest ASA ruling on the use of footballers in gambling ads, with adverts featuring Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, as well as Peter Crouch and Micah Richards, being ruled on previously.

Response

BetUK argued that Akinfenwa did not have strong appeal to under 18s. This argument was based on various factors, taking into account the risk categories outlined in the ASA guidance:

  • Playing career: Akinfenwa had retired in May 2022 and during his career had never played for a Premier League club (largely playing in League One and League Two), nor had he been capped internationally.
  • Media profile: Akinfenwa had a clothing range (BeastModeOn) but this was marketed at those aged 16-66. He did not advertise child related products.
  • Social media data: 8% of Akinfenwa’s followers on Instagram were under 18, and 13% on Snapchat. This indicated that the majority of his followers were adults.
  • The ad: The ad did not feature any content of a childish tone, was played during a radio show which was likely to have an adult audience, and primarily focused on safer gambling tools.

ASA Ruling

The ruling was handed down on 13 March 2024 and deemed that the ad breached BCAP Code rules 17.4 and 17.4.5. The ASA ruling was based on the following issues:

  • Media profile: Akinfenwa’s playing career would have placed him in the ‘low risk’ category but for his social and media profile. The fact Akinfenwa was ranked the strongest player in various editions of FIFA videogames and in 2022 appeared in an Amazon Prime documentary (Beast Mode On) did however lead the ASA to view him as being “unusually well known for a former lower league footballer”. His media profile therefore meant he was at least in the ‘moderate risk’ category.
  • Social media: Over his social media accounts, Aknifenwa had at least 157,000 followers who were under-18. This was deemed to be a significant number in absolute terms and a point which the ASA took to indicate that he should be placed in the ‘high risk’ category as a former player who was likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

Comment

This ruling further demonstrates that the ASA will consider a player’s profile both on and off the pitch in weighing up whether a footballer is likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s.

The ruling against BetVictor in relation to their ad featuring Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets is a strong contrast to the Akinfenwa ruling. In the former, the ASA decision was driven by the players’ profiles as footballers which was sufficient to suggest they had strong appeal to under-18s despite their lower profiles off the pitch, as indicated by the players’ low number of under-18 followers in the UK. By contrast, Akinfenwa’s media and social profile was enough to persuade the ASA that he had “cult” status and was likely to have strong appeal to under-18s despite having a less renowned status as a player. The ASA placed material importance on Akinfenwa’s popularity within the FIFA game, which is a popular game with young people.

This ruling demonstrates that gambling operators must consider the status a player has attained holistically, looking at sporting and non-sporting factors, when deciding which individuals to use in their gambling advertisements to ensure that they do not have strong appeal to under-18s. Of particular note in this case is that the ASA was not persuaded that the radio medium of the ad meant it would not appeal to under-18s, showing that operators must take care when advertising in these channels as well.

Callum is an Associate in our Commercial Department, based in London. Callum advises clients across the gambling, sports, media and entertainment sectors on regulatory, transactional and commercial matters.
Elizabeth is a Partner in our Commercial Department and a member of our Media, Entertainment & Sport Group, based in London. Elizabeth concentrates her practice on the gambling and sports sectors, and has particular experience advising on online gambling regulation and a broad range of commercial gambling and sports matters.

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