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A paid-for BetVictor Facebook ad must not appear again after the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it to be in breach of regulations.

Background context

The advert was seen in January 2023 and featured an image of Spanish footballers Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets playing for FC Barcelona.

Text above the image asked “Who is the most underrated player at the club you support?” while the BetVictor logo was visible in the ad’s top corner.

The ASA ruled that the advert featured individuals “likely to have a strong appeal to under-18-year olds,” therefore breaching the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The ASA’s response has raised some eyebrows in the industry, given a previous ruling stating that retired footballers such as Peter Crouch and Harry Redknapp – despite their widespread popularity and media visibility – were not of particular appeal to under-18s.

BetVictor response

BetVictor set out a series of arguments detailing why it believed the players should not be considered of particular appeal to under-18s in the UK.

The operator argued that while FC Barcelona is a popular, top-flight team, the players in question are not especially well known in the UK, as opposed to football superstars like Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe.

BetVictor said for that reason that Alba and Busquets should be considered of “medium risk”, given their lower profiles at European or World clubs.

Neither footballer played in an attacking or goal-scoring position, and their names did not make headlines, the operator argued, while neither had ever scored against any UK team and had not played in a club match against any Premier League team since 2019.

Further, BetVictor pointed out that while both players had represented Spain at a national level, their latest appearances had not resulted in any games against England or Wales.

Although the Spanish team had won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2012, BetVictor said any children in the UK who had witnessed those events and formed a strong connection to the players would now be over 18.

Further, neither player had high-value, personal sponsorship deals with any major brands in the UK and did not have a strong social media profile with those aged under-18.

Neither player had a social media presence on platforms commonly used by under-18s, such as Snapchat, TikTok or Twitch. In addition, Sergio Busquets had not posted on Twitter since May 2019, and Jordi Alba’s Twitter and Instagram posts were written in either Spanish or Catalan.

Comparing the volume of Google searches for the players compared to others, BetVictor found that search volume for Lionel Messi was at least 50 times higher than for either of the players, for Cristiano Ronaldo at least 75 times higher, and for Mbappe at least 20 times higher.

Even when looking at retired players in the UK, search volume for Peter Crouch was more than five times higher than for either player, and for Micah Richards more than six times higher.

As a result, BetVictor had concluded that both players had relatively low profiles in the UK and were therefore acceptable for inclusion in the post.

In addition to that slew of arguments, BetVictor added that the Facebook ad had only been paid for in order to ensure it was appropriately targeted to users aged over 25. Indeed, it added that data from the social media site showed 100% of the post’s viewers were in that age category.

ASA response

In return, the ASA argued that football was the most prominent gambling-related subject of particular appeal to under-18s, and that those involved in the sport at the professional level enjoyed exceptionally high media profiles.

“Those who played at an elite level, especially those who were successful internationally, were therefore likely to appeal strongly to children,” it said.

Any ‘star’ footballers – even if they do not play for UK teams – are considered high-risk in terms of how likely they are to appeal to under-18s, the authority added, suggesting that Alba and Busquets’ positions at FC Barcelona and Spain’s national team saw them fall into that category.

Other arguments included that both players had played for Spain’s national team during the 2022 World Cup, shortly before the ad was published, and had played in the semi-final of the Euro 2020 championship at Wembley Stadium in London.

“Both of those international events had a large amount of media coverage in the UK and were prominent events that would have been of interest to under-18s,” the ASA said.

However, the authority did concede that it would have been acceptable for the ad to appear in a medium where under-18s could be entirely excluded from the audience.

That would apply in circumstances where those viewing the ad had been “robustly age-verified,” such as through marketing lists that had been validated by payment data or credit checking.

Because Facebook users can self-verify their age when signing up, by posting the ad there the ASA declared that BetVictor had not sufficiently excluded under-18s from the ad’s potential audience.

The ASA therefore deemed the ad to be “irresponsible” and said it was in breach of the CAP Code. 

As a result, the ad may not appear again in its current form, and BetVictor has been told “not to include a person or character who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age” in its advertising.