This Ruling forms part of a wider piece of work banning gambling ads which, under strengthened rules, are prohibited from being likely to be of strong appeal to under-18s. The ads were identified for investigation following intelligence gathered by our Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules.
A promoted tweet for Sky Bet, posted on 9 February 2023, contained an embedded video clip from The Overlap football podcast. The video showed Gary Neville discussing which team might win the Premier League. The Sky Bet logo appeared intermittently throughout the video. On-screen text at the end stated, “BROUGHT TO YOU BY SKY BET” and the BeGambleAware logo appeared after that. Text in the caption stated, “Is Gary changing his title prediction? [eyes emoji] Thanks to Man City, It seems @GNev2 is having a change of heart [sweat grinning emoji][trophy emoji] Part three of The Overlap Fan Debate is out now [television emoji]”.
The ASA challenged whether the ad included an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18 years of age, and therefore breached the Code.
Sky Bet said they had worked extensively with CAP to ensure their ads complied with the requirements of the Joint CAP and BCAP Advertising Guidance “Gambling and lotteries advertising: protecting under-18s” (the B/CAP Guidance). They firmly believed that Gary Neville did not hold strong appeal to under-18s.
They explained that The Overlap, a YouTube series sponsored by Sky Bet and produced by Mr Neville, featured interviews with individuals from sporting, political and business backgrounds discussing contemporary sporting issues, with a focus on football. They said it was distinctly adult in tone and did not feature any content of a childish nature.
The episode that featured in the tweet was made up of fan debates covering subjects such as “the impact of Ten Hag [Manchester United’s manager] and the style of football at Manchester United” and “what is going wrong at Liverpool?”. They pointed out that such pundit-based discussions had been judged in previous ASA rulings not to be of strong appeal to children. They said just 1.2% of The Overlap’s audience was aged 13-17, with that figure dropping to 0.5% for the advertised episode.
They acknowledged that Gary Neville was well known for his time at Premier League club Manchester United, where he progressed from the youth team in 1991 to become club captain in 2005, a position he retained until his retirement in 2011. He was notable as one of the “Class of 92” team, which won the FA Youth Cup in 1992 and went on to form the basis of Manchester United’s highly successful senior team. They pointed out, however, that 1992 was more than 30 years ago and more than a decade before today’s 18-year-olds were even born. They added that his professional playing career had ended nearly 12 years previously, in 2011, when today’s 18-year-olds would have been five or six years old; furthermore, he had made only three Premier League appearances in the final year of his playing career. They believed that met the B/CAP Guidance’s definition of “long retired” and therefore he was at low risk of strongly appealing to under-18s. Similarly, although they acknowledged he had made a number of appearances for the England team from 1995 onwards, Mr Neville had not been a member of the England squad since 2007, and had made only one appearance in the final year of his international playing career. They cited previous ASA rulings where more recently-retired footballers who had moved into punditry had been judged not to be of strong appeal to under-18s.
They believed that Gary Neville was now more widely recognisable as a football pundit, political commentator and successful businessman, and they had assessed his profile, including his social media profile, on that basis before publishing the tweet. As of March 2023, he had 5,504,262 Twitter/X followers, of which 1% were aged 13-17. Assuming the 1% were all UK-based, they said that equated to just 0.39% of the UK’s total population of under-18s. They contrasted that with the 53% of his followers who were aged 25-34. They provided details of the top 20 subjects that his followers tweeted about; those included US and domestic politics, political figures, business, finance and Government institutions. They considered those to be markedly adult in nature with nothing that denoted an interest in children’s media or topics. Of the top five hashtags used by his followers, four pertained to football but the fifth most popular was #generalelectionnow. They said that showed the very mature and politically motivated nature of his Twitter/X audience. They added that Gary Neville was 47 years old at the time the ad appeared, and that his media profile was consistent with his mature age.
They added that he was well-known for being outspoken about his political views and used his social media platforms to address a broad range of social justice and political matters, once prompting a direct response from the Prime Minister in December 2022. In March 2023, 42% of his 183 tweets were related to political matters. He was frequently invited to appear on TV shows, news programmes and podcasts to discuss political topics. Having joined the Labour Party in 2022, he spoke at their conference with Sir Keir Starmer that year. Sky Bet believed Mr Neville was intrinsically connected to political matters in the public consciousness, which was unlikely to appeal to children and young people, who, they suggested, could be said to be entirely disinterested in such matters.
Sky Bet said Gary Neville did not have active public personal accounts on YouTube or Twitch. They provided data to show that of his 1.6 million Instagram followers, 5% were aged 13-17. They sent audience demographics for his TikTok and Facebook accounts, but said those platforms did not publish data for individuals registered as under 18.
In his capacity as a pundit for Sky and ITV, Gary Neville appeared on a range of football-themed TV shows. They pointed out that many of the programmes were scheduled later in the evening which, they believed, reduced the likelihood that they were regularly watched by children. They provided Broadcaster’s Audience Research Board (BARB) data that they said highlighted the overwhelmingly adult appeal of those programmes. They reiterated that the inherent strong appeal of football was unlikely to extend to pundit-based discussion that took place around a football game and cited a previous ASA ruling based on that rationale. While they were not able to provide demographic data for Sky Sports’ “The Gary Neville Podcast”, which contained Mr Neville’s review of the previous weekend’s footballing activity, they believed that this would not be of strong appeal to children because it focused solely on punditry.
Outside of his work as a pundit, Gary Neville appeared in Sky’s “Class of 92” series of TV documentaries about Salford FC. Sky Bet said those programmes focused on the day-to-day administration of the club and its business management and were therefore adult in tone. They provided BARB data that they said demonstrated its overwhelmingly adult appeal. Mr Neville also hosted Sky’s Soccer Box TV show where he interviewed retired footballers about their careers, content which Sky Bet believed would categorically not hold strong appeal to children. He appeared in a one-off documentary called “Gary Neville in Qatar” prior to the 2022 World Cup. Sky Bet were not able to obtain demographic data from Amazon who currently aired the show, but because it appeared on a subscriber-only platform and tackled mature themes, they believed it very unlikely to appeal to children. He appeared as a guest presenter on the satirical political panel show “Have I Got News For You” in November 2022. Sky Bet sent BARB data that they believed highlighted the very limited appeal that programme had to children.
They said they had assessed his current and previous endorsements, which were few and clearly targeted at an adult audience, such as a partnership with Castore (a high-performance sportwear brand for athletes), columns in the Daily Mail and The Telegraph and a number of books. As owner of a property investment company and co-owner of a hospitality management company, he was also known as a successful businessman. They believed that his co-ownership and former CEO role at EFL League 2 football team, Salford City, would not make him of strong appeal to under-18s because he operated behind the scenes at a lower-league club.
They said Gary Neville had been a brand ambassador for Sky Bet since 2018 and was widely recognised for his connection to their products, which were solely targeted at adults. They confirmed that the promoted tweet had been targeted at users registered as being over 25 years old who had a known interest in sport and who would therefore be likely to be interested in The Overlap.
Twitter/X believed the ad did not breach any of their current policies and said they had not received any complaints in relation to it.
From 1 October 2022, the CAP Code stated that marketing communications for gambling products must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They must not include a person or character whose example was likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who had strong appeal to those aged under 18.
The ASA expected advertisers to provide evidence that they had identified what persons or characters were generally known for outside the context of an ad, and had used appropriate sources of data and information to assess their likely level of appeal to under-18s. We acknowledged that the ad was targeted at over-25s, however, because it had appeared in a medium where under-18s could not be entirely excluded from the audience due to users self-verifying their age on sign-up, it needed to comply with that rule.
We acknowledged that Gary Neville had achieved prominence as a Premier League and England football player; he had won eight Premier League and two Champions League titles during his long club career and had represented his country in three European Championships and two World Cups. However, he had retired from Premier League football in 2011 and had not played for England since 2007. We considered, therefore, that at the time the ad appeared he not would have been of strong appeal to children and young people due to his career as a footballer. We considered that he was now more likely to be widely recognised as a TV sports pundit. The B/CAP Guidance classed retired footballers who had moved into punditry as likely to be of ‘moderate risk’ of strong appeal to under-18s and stated that they would be assessed on the basis of their social and other media profile. We therefore assessed the appeal that Mr Neville was likely to have to under-18s on that basis.
We noted he was a regular and well-known pundit on Sky Sports, appearing on several different programmes. He also featured in ITV’s football programming including World Cup coverage. The BARB data did not show that a significant proportion of viewers for any of those appearances was under 18. We also noted some of the programmes were scheduled later in the evening, post-9pm, which we considered reduced the likelihood that those programmes would be regularly watched by children. He also appeared as a pundit on Sky’s live coverage of Premier League football games, and we acknowledged that live Premier League games, along with live World Cup coverage, could be of strong appeal to under-18s. However, we considered that Gary Neville’s role as one of a group of pundits or commentators, whose discussion of performance and tactics was at a remove from the game, would not hold the same interest for young people as the roles of players and managers, who were direct participants and therefore more likely to be aspirational or influential figures to them. We therefore considered that his appearance in that context would be unlikely to hold strong appeal for under-18s.
We considered that Gary Neville’s commercial partnerships and roles outside of football punditry were adult-focused. We also considered that the TV programmes and podcasts he appeared on were primarily aimed at an adult audience and were unlikely to strongly appeal to a younger audience.
In terms of his social media presence, we understood that Mr Neville did not have active public personal accounts on YouTube, Twitch or Snapchat. However, he did post regularly on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter/X. Although figures for under-18 followers on TikTok and Facebook were not available, of his 1.6 million Instagram followers, 5% were registered as under 18, which amounted to 80,000 users. Of his 5,504,262 Twitter/X followers 1% were registered as under 18, which amounted to over 55,000 followers. Therefore across his active social media accounts he had at least 135,000 followers who were aged under 18. The BCAP Guidance stated, “… a generally high social media following that attracts a significant absolute number of under 18 followers, as determined through quantitative or qualitative analysis, is likely to be considered an indicator of 'strong' appeal”. Although they made up a small proportion of his total Instagram and Twitter/X followers, we considered that over 135,000 followers aged under 18 was a significant number in absolute terms. We therefore considered that because he had such large numbers of social media followers that were under 18, he was of inherent strong appeal to under-18s.
For that reason, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.12 (Gambling).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Bonne Terre Ltd t/a Sky Bet not to include a person or character who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their advertising in future.