Children who watch sport on television are being repeatedly exposed to alcohol brands, say researchers who want the practice outlawed.

In a study published today, they say Sky TV viewers who watched the whole match in which New Zealand lost to Australia in the 2015 Cricket World Cup final in Melbourne were exposed to 519 instances of the Victoria Bitter brand appearing on screen.

The beer's branding was in view, from the Australian players' clothing, for 10 per cent of the match (excluding any advertisements and halftime shows).

"Due to alcohol sponsorship of sport, New Zealanders, including children, were exposed to up to 200 ads per hour they watched televised sport, and people watching football and tennis saw alcohol ads for almost half of each game," said Associate Professor Louise Signal, one of the researchers.


The researchers, whose paper is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, analysed recordings from Sky TV of five sporting events from the summer of 2014/15: the Asian Cup men's football final in Sydney, the Australian Tennis Open final in Melbourne, a women's League 9s test in Auckland, the Cricket World Cup final, and a Football Ferns women's international friendly in Chicago.

They said the events "attracted large audiences of all ages".

The number of times an alcohol brand was observed was: men's football, 433; tennis, 777; league, 42; and women's football, 340.

The duration of alcohol brand exposure was: men's football, 43 per cent of the match; tennis, 47 per cent; league, 24 per cent; and women's football, 47 per cent.

The number of alcohol brand exposures per minute were: men's football, 3.4; tennis, 3.8; league, 2.3, cricket, 1.6; women's football, 3.8.

"Marketing drives alcohol consumption by encouraging drinking," say the researchers, from Otago University at Wellington.

"Alcohol causes considerable harm, including violence, injury, mental health problems and cancer. It contributes to over 5 per cent of deaths in New Zealand and costs the country more than $5 billion a year."

Signal said sport sponsorship bypasses traditional marketing and gets around the current advertising codes.

"Children see their sporting heroes linked with alcohol. In New Zealand we have already agreed that alcohol should not be marketed to children by traditional marketing. Why should we allow it with sports sponsorship."

In 2014, a group chaired by former rugby league coach Graham Lowe urged the Government to ban alcohol sponsorship of all streamed and broadcast sports and in the long term to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport in total. These were among 14 recommendations by the Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship.

Lowe said last night: "Youth and children - that's who I'm worried about. For people to think young people aren't affected and don't log in their memory banks the loyalty factor of seeing so many alcohol ads - if you go down that path, I think you're bloody crazy."

Spokesmen for NZ Football and Justice Minister Amy Adams both said yesterday there was insufficient time to comment on the new study before the Herald's deadline.

When Adams released the Lowe report in 2014, she said officials would investigate the feasibility and likely impact of its proposals.

Alcohol supplier Lion, whose Kirin and Budweiser brands were among those observed by the researchers, said it supports many sports organisations and its marketing is responsible.

"The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 and the Advertising Code for Advertising and Promotion for Alcohol prohibit marketing alcohol to children and young people, and we are scrupulous in ensuring that we comply with all relevant laws and codes.

"The aim and effect of alcohol advertising and sponsorship is not to increase consumption - it is to increase or promote brand loyalty. The data bears out this fact: even though channels for advertising have increased, consumption has been steadily trending down.

"The evidence demonstrates that exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship does not lead to harmful consumption, or to early initiation to drinking - as overseas examples have illustrated."

Association of NZ Advertisers chief executive Lindsay Mouat criticised the Otago University research.

"... there is no evidence of viewing audience demographics of the events cited provided, when advertisers know that the audience for live sport is predominantly adult. The Australian Open final, for example, begins around 9.30pm NZ time.

"Also, the claimed 'exposure' of 1.6-3.8 per minute is grossly overstated as much of this is peripheral. How many people are actively watching the sideline signage at any point rather than the on-field action."

Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way said they don't have any influence on the advertising within the event itself, especially international events.

She said the responsibility lay with the event organiser who controls how it all runs.

"We just broadcast what the event is. Or film it if it's in New Zealand."​

The Herald sought a response from and Victoria Bitter supplier Carlton & United Breweries but nothing was received before deadline.

New Zealand Cricket said it acknowledges the hazards of alcohol, advocates stronger promotion of responsible drinking, and supports appropriate regulation of alcohol - "all within the existing framework".