In October 2022, CAP introduced new rules banning gambling ads from including any content (imagery, themes, and characters) likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

Since then, the ASA has published numerous rulings on the subject. Many of these have resulted from intelligence gathered by its Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules. 

CAP published guidance along with the rules, which outlines clear categories of high, medium, and low risk content. This includes advice that football is of inherent appeal to children, and so top flight players and managers are highly likely to be of strong appeal.

Earlier this year, the ASA ruled that social media ads that featured then Premier League players Philippe Coutinho, Jesse Lingard and Kalidou Koulibaly were likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s. As all three had been current Premier League players when the ads appeared, they were well known to followers of football, especially supporters of the clubs they played for, including those aged under 18. An ad which included an image of five Premier League managers fell foul of the rules on similar grounds.

The guidance makes clear that non-UK ‘star’ footballers are also a big risk. An ad which featured an image of Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets was banned because their position as prominent team members at Barcelona, and appearances for the Spain national team at the 2022 World Cup meant they were of strong appeal to under-18s.

It’s not just football – using prominent stars of other sports with a significant national profile in gambling ads should also be avoided. The ASA issued an upheld ruling about a series of Tweets that featured high profile tennis stars, including Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, because their dominance of the world rankings and recent big tournament appearances meant they were considered likely to be of strong appeal.

Many factors come into play when assessing if a personality is likely to have strong appeal to under-18s. 

When considering ads featuring football pundits Peter Crouch and Micah Richards, the ASA looked at how long they had been retired from playing and their social media following on different platforms, amongst other factors. While both had direct links to Premier League football, which is generally likely to be of strong appeal to children, their social and other media profiles were predominantly adult orientated. Therefore, these ads were found not to be of strong appeal to under-18s.

And even though the guidance outlines that boxing is a sport likely to be of low appeal to children, the ASA still ruled against an ad for a boxing match featuring YouTuber Jake Paul. Despite having moved into boxing, the ASA considered he would primarily be known for making YouTube videos. Because many young people following him on social media and knew him from appearances on a children’s TV programme, it was concluded that he had strong appeal to under-18s.

This week, the ASA issued an upheld ruling about three tweets for Betfred, which promoted an upcoming Anthony Joshua fight. The ASA assessed Joshua’s appeal to children and decided although he would still be considered widely recognisable and a notable ‘star’ of boxing, he was nearing the end of his career. However, due to his success and celebrity status, he would likely still have been considered as an influential figure and a notable star within the sport. The ASA also considered his social media presence. He had over 1.1 million followers aged under 18 which the ASA said was a significant number in absolute terms. Therefore, it considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers who were under 18, Mr Joshua was of inherent strong appeal to under-18s.

It is worth remembering that the rules don’t just apply to sport, and the guidance emphasises that other content likely to appeal to children, such as cartoon animation, video game references and other youth related content, are as likely to lead to a ban.

As we have written before, targeting of gambling ads (and probably other ads for age-restricted products) is and will continue to be one of the ASA’s hot topics for the foreseeable future. As the ASA continues to proactively look for problematic ads, rather than wait for complaints, the risk of upheld complaints continues to be high. 

And as can be seen from the examples to date, it is very difficult in practice to assess whether a particular sporting figure is of strong appeal to children. Are they a Premier League footballer? If so, then it seems they are automatically high risk. Are they a current star, or retired? Are they a UK or foreign star? What else are they known for? Who follows them on social media? What about managers and coaches? There are so many factors and so many arguments either way. And of course the position is liable to change – what if a player appears on Strictly? The ASA guidance is helpful, but with numerous unquantifiable references to "significant" this and that, it is perhaps only as the number of ASA rulings (both upheld and not upheld) on this increase that we will begin to develop some sort of database – or league table to continue the sporting theme – that we can use to benchmark and make meaningful assessments of where a particular sports personality may sit in the context of those that have gone before.

If you need advice on how you target your ads and who you feature in them, let us know.