independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

New report reveals scale of alcohol promotion throughout Six Nations Rugby championship

 Frenetic alcohol promotion evident throughout Ireland’s Six Nations Rugby championship matches 


• Capture of favourite sports pushes alcohol brand every 15 seconds 

• Full measures on controlling alcohol advertising and marketing need to be implemented 

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, in partnership with the Institute of Alcohol Studies (London) and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems – SHAAP (Edinburgh), today (Thursday, 30 September) have published a new frequency analysis study into alcohol marketing during the 2020 Six Nations Rugby Championship.

The findings reveal the extraordinary frequency of viewer’s exposure to alcohol promotion during a typical match broadcast. The study was conducted by Institute for Social Marketing and Health, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, University of Stirling.

During the broadcast of Ireland’s home match against Wales, viewers were targeted with 754 alcohol promotion messages – one every 15 seconds; against Scotland it was 690 – one every 16 seconds. Over 50% of these references came within the sporting area, and during actual game time.

From November 12th 2021, under the provisions of the Public Health Alcohol Act, these on-field promotions will be prohibited. These provisions, along with significant other measures on content of advertising and broadcast watershed yet to be commencement, are designed to curb the promotion of alcohol with a public health objective of reducing Ireland’s overall alcohol use and protecting children from alcohol marketing.

The AAI | IAS | SHAAP study reveals that during the Scotland vs England match (Murrayfield), alcohol promotion reached frenzied levels of nearly 1,000 promotions, with 961 references recorded – one every 12 seconds.

Interestingly, in France – where such alcohol promotion in sport has been prohibited since the 1990s – during the France vs England match (Stade De France), alcohol references were significantly lower at 193 – one every 50 seconds, and most references (88.1%) were indirect forms of alibi marketing.

According to the recent Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s ‘Statutory Report on the Effect of the BAI Children’s Commercial Communications Code’ (2021), seven of the top ten TV Programmes for Irish children, aged 4-17 years, were live sports broadcasts: GAA, Rugby and Soccer.

Research shows that children exposed to alcohol advertising are more likely to start drinking at a younger age, and drink more heavily in later life. This new study adds to a wealth of information showing the failings of alcohol marketing regulations, particularly in sport.

Commenting on the report, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications | Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland, said:  

The findings of this research demonstrate the pernicious, and near subliminal, nature of alcohol sponsorship of international rugby. The maximum ‘return-on-investment’ demands that the alcohol brand is central to the entire sporting occasion and captivates the fans experience; that’s what sustains the brand relationship and ensure that future drinkers, and children in particular, are presented with the product right at the moment of greatest enjoyment, thrill and success. 

If we are to protect children from alcohol marketing we must stop their exposure to the ads. 

The forthcoming implementation of Section 15 of the Public Health Alcohol Act will help to weaken this level of alcohol promotion in sport, but to be effective all of the measures must now be commencement including statutory controls on the content of alcohol advertising (Section 13) and a broadcast watershed (Section 19). 


In the UK, alcohol marketing remains self-regulated by the alcohol industry, with its code of practice stating that “drinks companies must use their reasonable endeavours…to ensure that at least 75% [of the audience] are aged over 18”. Katherine Severi, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, argues that “This is slightly meaningless posturing when the Six Nations has an audience of 125 million. Under these rules it is permitted for over 30 million children to see and be influenced by alcohol ads.”

Study authors Dr Richard Purves and Dr Nathan Critchlow rightly ask “how Ireland’s impending restrictions may influence alcohol marketing practice in future iterations of the tournament”.

Their study shows how the alcohol industry has worked to circumvent marketing restrictions in France with so-called ‘alibi marketing’: using identity features that are linked to the brand without explicitly referring to it – a practice that has been used by tobacco companies in sport too. In France, the Six Nations’ lead sponsor, Guinness, uses the term ‘Greatness’ instead – with the same branding.

The continued presence of alibi marketing in France does have implications for the regulators and policymakers overseeing the new restrictions in Ireland, namely whether alibi marketing will also be restricted under the wording of their legislation and what arrangements are in place to monitor and enforce the restrictions.

Elinor Jayne, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, welcomed the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to holding a consultation on alcohol marketing restrictions, but said “The consultation must also include consideration of wider restrictions on alcohol marketing, as opposed to a ban on certain forms only.”



Notes to the Editor 

  • This study was developed by 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 
  • The study was prepared for Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) 
  • A copy of the full Report can be downloaded from:  /wpfb-file/09_23_21-alcohol-marketing-during-the-2020-six-nations-final-pdf/