Industry urged to rethink esports advertising practices

UK bookmakers have been urged to rethink their advertising strategy with regards to displaying marketing inventory targeting esports events.

A report commissioned by cross-party think-tank Demos and the Department of Management at the University of Bristol called for greater use of age verification tools to stop child audiences from engaging with betting-related content.

Authors of ‘Biddable Youth’ detail that under-16 audiences made up a quarter of the online users who responded to Twitter posts promoting betting odds on esports tournaments.

The research analysed over 888,000 betting-related tweets over nine months in 2018, and found 28% of retweets or replies to esports betting tweets in the UK were from children under-16.

The report underlines that UK children are ‘five times’ more likely to engage with esports related betting tweets than with traditional sports betting inventories (5% of audiences).

Further industry concerns arise as research details that 74% of esports betting tweets appear not to comply with UK advertising regulations, in-relation to their messaging and imagery.

Conditions breached include ‘presenting betting as an income source’, ‘encouraging gambling at unsociable times’ and ‘use of persons under-25 in a gambling advert’.

The UK’s current CAP advertising code states that bookmaker advertising must not appeal to children or young audiences through being associated-or-reflecting ‘youth culture particularly if they are generally available to view by them”.

Josh Smith, the co-author of the report, said: “This report explores a vital new field of gambling online, which encourages people to bet on the outcome of video games.”

“We found that high volumes of messages are produced to appeal particularly to children, with thousands of children in the UK following and responding to this content.

“We hope this report serves as a call to action – both to technology companies to make it easier for gambling customers to get a clear picture of what they’re getting into, and to regulators who must continue to ensure that these new actors are compliant with regulation.”

Last July, publishing its industry interim update, gambling addiction and treatment charity GambleAware highlighted esports and its appeal to younger audiences as a growing concern.

The charity said that the industry needed to strengthen age verification provisions across social media platforms and invest in further technology provisions in order to minimise under-age interactions.

The marketing of esports inventory is likely to come under further scrutiny given the unique nature of esports events, which see young athletes compete for £/$/€ multi-million prizes across the globe, watched by young audiences across non-traditional platforms.

Last month, American Kyle Giersdorf, 16, grabbed news headlines after becoming ‘Fortnite World Champion’, winning $3.5 million at a tournament hosted at the Arthur Ashe Stadium (New York) – an event which drew a global audience equivalent to the NFL Superbowl.

Professor Agnes Nairn from the University of Bristol said: “We were really surprised at the number of children actively engaging with esports gambling accounts.

“Yet with the massive growth in the esports industry, unless action is taken, we can only expect this figure to rise as sports and gambling seem to be inextricably linked.”

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