Review of the Alcohol Sponsorship Guidlines for Scotland

The review evaluated knowledge of, and compliance with, the Alcohol Sponsorhsip Guidelines for Scotland, with a focus on identifying best practice and examining whether there is a need to enhance and improve the Guidelines to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

4 Implementation of the Guidelines

4.1 This section reviews how the Alcohol Sponsorship Guidelines are being interpreted and implemented by alcohol industry sponsors and by rights-holders. It also considers participants' suggestions for enhancing the Guidelines and ensuring implementation in the future.


The research uncovered no major issues with regard to the interpretation and implementation of the Guidelines. The industry representatives and rights-holders interviewed were complying with all of the core principles relevant to them and very few of them identified any barriers to doing so. Indeed, most of them said that, by the time the Guidelines were published, they were already behaving in ways consistent with most, if not all, of the principles; whether as a result of following the Portman Group code, company-specific codes of practice, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code and/or relevant legislative requirements.

Still, there was a sense in which the industry representatives felt that compliance could be an issue among some smaller companies and that rights-holders could take on more responsibility for implementation vis a vis sponsors. Additionally, there were suggestions for enhancing specific principles covered in the Guidelines and for ensuring future compliance more generally - the latter included raising awareness of the Guidelines among all those to whom they are applicable, and developing a mechanism for identifying and addressing non-compliance.

Responsibility for implementation

4.2 All of the rights-holders who took part in the research said that reference to the Alcohol Sponsorship Guidelines forms an important part of their contractual agreements with sponsors. However, only a couple of them said that their contracts state explicitly who is responsible for implementing the Guidelines. When asked where they thought such responsibility lies, they tended to say with both themselves and their sponsors but a couple of them clearly felt that sponsors should assume a lead role. For their part, and consistent with views reported in the previous chapter, industry representatives expressed frustration that some rights-holders are not more cognisant of their responsibilities under the Guidelines and therefore more willing to 'go the extra mile' to ensure appropriate implementation.

It's an agreement with both parties, so it would mean that both of us have got to be aware of [the Guidelines] but it is something that we would probably expect to be driven by a partner.


I think the onus is very much upon the industry at the moment to deliver the content of the [Guidelines]…With a sponsorship we're about to announce, there was a long and heavy debate about whether we could include parts of the [Guidelines] in the contract, and they pushed back very heavily against that…they saw it as our responsibility to hold to the code rather than theirs.

Industry representative

4.3 Still, some of the industry representatives also commented that the situation is gradually changing, with rights-holders increasingly recognising that it is in their own interests, as well as those of the wider public, to work towards effective implementation.

Current implementation practice

4.4 The research uncovered no major issues with regard to the interpretation and implementation of the Guidelines. The industry representatives and rights-holders interviewed were complying with all of the core principles relevant to them and very few of them identified any barriers to doing so. Indeed, most of them said that, by the time the Guidelines were published, they were already behaving in ways consistent with most, if not all, of the principles; whether as a result of following the Portman Group code, company-specific codes of practice, the CAP code and/or relevant legislative requirements. Still, there was a sense in which participants felt that compliance could be an issue among smaller companies that have no representation on the SGAIP.

We are absolutely doing these things and I would feel that the Sponsorship Guidelines would be the very, very bottom net that we would [use to] try and catch anything out and I would very much doubt if anything would reach that far.

Industry representative

It's not difficult to do what's on there. It might be difficult for some organisations to do it well but it's something that larger companies and certainly the responsible companies would be doing anyway.

Industry representative

4.5 The remainder of this chapter examines interpretation and implementation of the individual components of the Guidelines in detail, highlighting areas of best practice and barriers to compliance where appropriate. It also considers views on how the Guidelines might be enhanced to ensure that they remain fit for purpose.

The Core Principles of the Guidelines

1) 'As an integral part of each new sponsorship, the sponsor will make a recognisable commitment to activities or events that promote responsible drinking or support diversionary/community activities'

4.6 All of the industry representatives and rights-holders who took part in the research said that their company or organisation actively engages in the promotion of responsible drinking as part of its sponsorship agreements, whether by integrating responsible drinking messages on all relevant communications; donating advertising and marketing collateral to such messages; strictly controlling sampling activity; or, in the case of one of the rights-holders, offering sponsors incentives to promote responsible drinking (see paragraphs 4.28-4.35 for more information on these activities). Several industry representatives from larger companies also described commitments that their company had made to support diversionary and/or community activities. These commitments took the form of funding charitable foundations or other initiatives aimed at promoting sports or cultural activities among young people and local communities.

Good practice example:

Tennent's donated their sponsorship rights for the Scotland men's Under 21 football team to the Scottish Government's CashBack for Communities Scheme. This meant that the Scheme was promoted on the training kit of the team, as well as on trackside advertising at all home games, editorial and advertising in match programmes and access to the players for CashBackrelated media opportunities. The deal also includes 300 free tickets for each under 21 home game, to be used for competitions.

Good practice example:

Another company that has sponsored a football club in the past has encouraged the club to get involved in Alcohol Awareness Week. It provided the club with Alcohol Awareness Week table toppers, posters and beer mats for placement in the club bar and reception during home games.

Good practice example:

Diageo sponsors the Scottish Grocer Magazine Social Responsibility Award. The award recognises social responsibility amongst the off-licensed trade in Scotland against a set of standards, which include: a robust system to prevent underage drinks purchase and consumption, and clear communication of the policy; responsible display and promotion of alcohol; involvement in local initiatives like Crimestoppers; and involvement in positive local programmes which benefit local social life and community health, like local festivals and gala days, sports events etc.

4.7 Still, a small minority of participants questioned the meaning of the term 'recognisable commitment' in the context of the Guidelines, asking: "what is a recognisable commitment", "how do you demonstrate your recognisable commitment?" or "who judges what is a recognisable commitment?" The focus group participants suggested that a good way to address such questions would be to add relevant case study examples to the Guidelines. They felt it important that the case studies cover a range of commitments, undertaken by both smaller and larger organisations, to illustrate the varied ways in which the principle can be applied.

2) 'Alcohol brands must not be used to sponsor teams, brands, celebrities or events with a particular appeal to those under the age of 18'

4.8 Industry and rights-holders who were interviewed invariably stated that this principle is consistent with provision in their own code of practice and/or in the CAP code and is therefore "embedded" or "ingrained" in everything they do. While all felt that the principle is effective in its current form, one of the rights-holders was keen to draw a distinction between teams and events that have a particular appeal to under 18s, and those that have a general, family appeal. He thought it entirely appropriate for alcohol companies to sponsor the latter types of events and, indeed, commented that it is a "good thing" to create environments where young people are exposed to alcohol being consumed responsibly. A similar comment was made by an industry representative.

4.9 Of course, demonstrating compliance with the principle is sometimes contingent upon the availability of accurate audience demographic data for the events in question. Current practice in respect of the collection and analysis of such data is discussed under point 5 below.

3) 'Alcohol brands will not be used to sponsor an individual who is under 18. This does not prevent alcohol brands being used to sponsor teams and events, where the team or event includes participation of a person under 18; although any team members under the age of 18 will not be used individually in any promotional or brand activation activity'

4.10 Again, all of the participants said they adhere strictly to this principle and, indeed, almost half said that they err on the side of caution by not sponsoring, or not putting forward for sponsorship, individuals under the age of 25, reflecting the Portman Group and CAP guidelines for the marketing of alcoholic drinks.

Good practice example:

Tennent's consciously avoid sponsoring under 21 football teams because they cannot guarantee that, at any one time, most of the players in those team will be over 18.

4.11 One of the stakeholders interviewed felt strongly that an under 25 threshold should apply for all sponsorship of individuals and that the Guidelines should be changed accordingly.

The whole under 25 issue…is much bigger than just sponsorship obviously but I think it's a very important issue for the Sponsorship Guidelines to look at in a bit more detail…in terms of using images or promotional material of people under 25; whether that's appropriate or not…Lewis Hamilton if he's lucky he's 26 but he looks younger. [The Guidelines should be brought] into line with the rest of the standards in the media.


4.12 In the focus groups among industry representatives, however, there was little support for this suggestion. Several of the participants commented that, as 18 is the legal age for alcohol consumption, it makes sense that the same threshold applies in respect of sponsorship.

4) 'Prior to sponsorship of any individual or team, the owners of the alcohol brand should make all appropriate efforts to check if there is any known reason why an alcohol brand would be inappropriate'

4.13 The industry representatives interviewed took this principle very seriously, not least because they were extremely wary of any associations that might bring their brand into disrepute. Almost all of them said that, prior to entering into a sponsorship agreement, they carry out an "audit" of, or "research thoroughly", the individuals, teams or events concerned to identify any reasons why the sponsorship might be inappropriate. Additionally, one individual said that his company has written regulations stipulating types of association it will not consider.

4.14 A few participants recounted specific instances of their company rejecting or terminating particular sponsorship or similar agreements because of the "risk" these associations posed to their reputation:

We have been pulling back from cars and drivers for a while and I think pretty much stopped everything involved in motor sports. That's not to say that motor sport sponsorship can't be used positively. You look at Johnnie Walker's involvement with the McLaren Formula One team at the moment and it's largely putting out the message of responsible drinking…but we choose not to be involved because of the risk of negative associations.

Industry representative

We have had things proposed to us by football clubs to run activities funded by them - so not even things that we would have to pay for - that would seem attractive to us, that used legends from their past, [some of whom] had a chequered history with alcohol, but we just said "no, absolutely no way; we're not branding that".

Industry representative

4.15 Reflecting such strong feeling among industry representatives, there was a consensus that this principle of the Guidelines is appropriate and there is no need to clarify or enhance it.

5) 'All reasonable efforts must be made to obtain historical (or anticipated, if a new event) demographics for the sponsored events. For association with an alcohol brand, demographics must indicate that 75% of the event participants, audience and spectators are over 18'

4.16 All but one of the industry representatives interviewed said they work closely with rights-holders to obtain historical demographics for the event(s) that they sponsor. While a few of them had found this process to be straightforward, most identified barriers to obtaining the requisite information. Specifically, it was noted that:

  • while it is possible to collect basic demographic information as part of the ticket sales process, the tendency for people to buy tickets online and on behalf of others makes it very difficult to ascertain the age of all those who will come into possession of tickets
  • certain events have no historical precedent, meaning relevant data simply isn't available. There was particular reference to new arts and cultural events that have family appeal and for which it can be difficult to predict the likely number of under 18s that will attend
  • the demographics of television audiences for particular events are often very difficult to establish until after those events - for example, it was noted that in the run up to the last football World Cup, the event organisers anticipated that only 20% of the audience would be under 18 but this proved to be a gross under-estimation
  • for events with a global audience, such as Formula One, there can be additional logistical challenges in obtaining cross-national audience data.

4.17 Besides these perceived barriers, it was clear that some of the data currently being used to assess the demographic profile of audiences is not particularly robust. For example, a few participants said that they simply look at the numbers of adult and junior tickets sold, taking junior sales as a proxy for the proportion of under 18s that will be attending. However, junior tickets can typically only be purchased by people aged 16 and under, so this method potentially misses people aged between 16 and 18 years.

4.18 One of the stakeholders interviewed felt that the difficulties involved in collecting accurate data are such that the Guidelines should not specify the exact percentage of participants, audiences and spectators that must be over 18, but instead simply state that the majority should meet this threshold.

4.19 However, industry representatives in the focus groups stated that they were "comfortable" or "reasonably happy" with the 75% figure and that, for them, the wording of the principle - and specifically the reference to 'reasonable efforts' - is key as it acknowledges implicitly that the available information "isn't necessarily going to be absolutely clear". At the same time, they felt that it would be helpful to include in the Guidelines case studies or examples of best practice in this area to illustrate ways of approaching data collection for different types of event. No case studies of good practice were identified in the industry interviews completed but this does not mean that there are no examples in the industry as a whole which could be used in the Guidelines.

I think the wording says: 'all reasonable efforts must be made'. Now we would take that as saying: "Well, what were the ticket sales like last year? What kind of groups are you getting? Is there a children's section?"…Put three or four case studies [into the Guidelines] to say: "Here is how you report an arts sponsorship; here is how you report sport; here is how you report TV

Industry representative

6) 'Competitions for tickets, which include hospitality involving the service of alcohol, must only be open to those over 18'

4.20 All of the industry representatives who took part in the research said that they follow this principle as standard, with a few specifying that rules around competitions are written into their terms and conditions of contract with rights-holders.

4.21 However, one of the stakeholders interviewed, along with a small number of participants in the industry focus groups, felt that there would be no harm in opening up competitions to under 18s because, if licensing laws are being enforced properly, winners who are below the legal drinking age should not be served alcohol in any case. A couple of people took this argument a stage further, suggesting that the wording of the principle be changed to specify that: "no competition winner can be under 18 if the prize is alcohol". Most of the focus group participants did not support this suggestion, however and were comfortable with the principle in its current form.

7) 'Alcohol branding must not appear on children's replica sports shirts or clothing under sponsorship agreements signed after 1 January 2008'

4.22 Again, all of the industry representatives and rights-holders to whom this principle was relevant said that they follow it as standard and regard it as a non-negotiable element of sponsorship contracts. Indeed, a few industry representatives from larger companies said that they stopped placing branding on children's clothing a number of years ago, well before the publication of the Guidelines.

4.23 Still, several participants questioned the ultimate efficacy of the principle in protecting under 18s, pointing out that children often buy, or are bought, adult size shirts so that they can "look more like their heroes". There was a consensus that there is nothing industry can do to prevent such behaviour and, indeed, that introducing age checks for people buying shirts would at best amount to a partial solution because adults would still be able to give shirts to under 18s. Industry representatives in the focus groups expressed some concern that the Scottish Government might seek to resolve the issue by banning shirt sponsorship entirely. They felt that such a move could have a detrimental impact on Scottish sport and suggested that parents should be left to decide whether or not it is appropriate for their child to have an alcohol branded piece of clothing.

4.24 A separate issue that was raised in respect of children's replica clothing was whether or not it is appropriate for such clothing to feature branding for non-alcoholic versions of sponsors' products. A specific example cited was Hibernian Football Club's replica shirts, which feature branding for John Crabbie's non-alcoholic ginger beer. Among the industry participants in the focus groups, there was a consensus that such practice is "not in the spirit of the Guidelines" and should be actively discouraged by the SGAIP. One participant noted that as an increasing number of alcohol companies are producing low- or zero-alcohol products, it may be necessary to "future proof" the Guidelines to pre-empt any new compliance issues that this might raise. A specific suggestion made was that the wording of the principle could be adapted to state that: 'Branding associated with alcohol products must not appear on children's replica sports shirts…'

8) 'At sponsored events or events associated with the sponsorship, event organisers and all on and off trade alcohol providers (where the level of sponsorship and/or contractual relationship allows) will comply with the standards of good practice and advice contained in the Social Responsibility Standards for the Production and Sale of Alcoholic Drinks: Scotland' guide'

4.25 Some of the industry representatives and rights-holders interviewed said that their company/organisation does not deliver any bar or sampling facilities at the events it sponsors, with these services provided by experienced bar operators. They felt confident that such operators are well versed in the requirements of licensing legislation and the Social Responsibility Standards, and carry out their work accordingly.

4.26 Participants who said that their company does operate bar or sampling facilities reported that the staff involved (including service and security staff) are trained or briefed on relevant licensing legislation and the requirements of the Standards so that they are fully aware of their individual responsibilities in this area. One participant said that his company operates a personal license system for its service staff.

Good practice example:

One industry representative said that their company has an established protocol for use on occasions when the service of alcohol at events it is sponsoring is being carried out by staff from outwith the company. This protocol includes using a check list to brief the staff on the procedures they must follow and providing the event host (e.g. the hotel, stadium etc.) with a code of conduct.

4.27 None of the participants had experienced any barriers to implementing this principle. Accordingly, none made any suggestions for clarifying or enhancing it.


4.28 The Guidelines include the following stipulations concerning sampling at sponsored events or events associated with the sponsorship:

  • Sponsorship should not encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption such as binge drinking, drunkenness or drink driving and should not have a particular appeal to under 18s
  • Anyone carrying out sampling activity with consumers must comply with current licensing legislation and be trained in the serving of alcohol
  • Every effort should be made to restrict samples in line with the government sensible daily drinking guidelines
  • Challenge 21 principles should be applied and age verification sought if doubts exist as to the consumer's age
  • Samples must not be given to anyone who appears to be intoxicated
  • Water/soft drinks and snacks should be provided wherever possible

4.29 Most of the industry representatives and rights-holders stated that sampling is not carried out at their sponsored events, so they had no experience of implementing these principles. Participants who said their organisation does carry out sampling were clearly cognisant of their responsibilities in this area and followed strict procedures accordingly. In each case, this included: ensuring that staff carrying out the sampling are fully trained in the service of alcohol; operating a token or hand stamp system to restrict the number of drinks that an individual can consume; including responsible drinking messages on sample cups and other communications associated with the sampling; providing soft drinks/water and in some cases snacks; and asking for proof of age wherever appropriate. In respect of the latter measure, it was notable that not all participants were aware that Challenge 21 has been superseded by Challenge 25. A participant who was aware of this felt it important that the Guidelines are amended to reflect the change.

4.30 While participants in the focus groups similarly noted the need for the Guidelines to include reference to Challenge 25, a few of them also questioned whether it is necessary for the Guidelines to include any stipulations regarding sampling as this area is covered by licensing legislation. A couple of people suggested that a simple statement to the effect of: "all events must comply with licensing legislation" would suffice. Most of the other participants disagreed with this, however, commenting either that the Guidelines are there to "illuminate the legislation", or that it is "handy" to have a single document containing all of the information they might need on alcohol sponsorship.

If you're sitting down with the local 10k race organiser and he has got a beer tent or something there, it's handy to have the little booklet and say: "this is what we're working to as part of the sponsorship deal"…It's more helpful than not helpful.

Industry representative

Integrating responsible drinking messages

4.31 The Guidelines state that:

  • All print/paper based point of sale communications should carry prominent and appropriate responsible drinking messaging. For example: the logo or a responsible drinking reminder
  • Any sporting sponsorship activity must not imply that it is acceptable to consume alcohol before, or while playing sport. Nor should it suggest that alcohol enhances sporting performance, social or sexual success
  • There should be no implication that bravado, aggressive, dangerous or anti-social behaviour is advocated or condoned by the brand.

4.32 Without exception, the industry representatives interviewed said that they "use every opportunity" available to promote responsible drinking and place relevant messaging on all point of sale communications, including all advertisements (banners, posters, programmes etc.) as well as on tickets, cups, drink tokens and drink carriers. As mentioned already, a couple of participants representing larger companies also said that they dedicate some of their advertising space entirely to responsible drinking messages as a way of demonstrating their commitment in this area. One of the rights-holders stated that his organisation "gifts" marketing collateral to sponsors to promote responsible drinking.

Good practice example:

As part of its sponsorship of the Heineken Cup, Heineken pursues a comprehensive range of measures aimed at promoting responsible drinking. One of six TV facing branding boards is used exclusively to promote an 'Enjoy Responsibly' message, and programme advertising includes prominent 'Enjoy Heineken Responsibly' and Drinkaware logos. All plastic pint glasses and four pint carriers are printed with alcohol by volume and units per pint information. The pint carriers also carry 'Enjoy Heineken Responsibly' and Drinkaware logos.

Good practice example:

As part of its sponsorship of Scottish Rugby, the Edrington Group, producers of the Famous Grouse, co-authored an article with the Scottish Rugby Union on responsible drinking. The article, included in an England v Scotland match day programme, congratulated rugby fans on their responsible approach to alcohol and encouraged them to continue to drink in moderation so as to set a positive example to other consumers.

4.33 However, several participants questioned the efficacy of "standard" responsible drinking messages, suggesting that these have "become wallpaper" and "just wash over" consumers. They felt that companies should be given greater flexibility to develop creative messages that are tailored to their target market or the sponsored event; or that "fit the brand personality", as these are likely to have more of an impact on consumers.

4.34 In addition to these views, there was reference to the fact that the Guidelines cover print and paper communications only, not internet based media. One of the stakeholders stressed that alcohol companies' are committing an increasing proportion of their marketing budgets to online, and in particular social media, communication so, in effect, the Guidelines may not cover most of their communication activities. The same stakeholder went on to say that young people are the main users of social media and that alcohol companies are trying to "colonise young people's space".

4.35 For their part, participants in the focus groups noted that the Guidelines are specifically focused on point of sale communications and that a large proportion of online communications do not fall into this category. They also pointed out that the Portman Group has a digital marketing code of conduct to which members adhere. They suggested that the code be referenced in the Guidelines to ensure that all companies are aware of it.

Suggestions for ensuring implementation

4.36 In addition to views set out above, there were a number of more general suggestions for ensuring compliance with the Guidelines in the future.

Awareness raising and information sharing

I personally think [the Guidelines] cover everything they need to…It's more about how you use them and how you make sure other people use them.

Industry representative

Driving greater application through awareness is an opportunity that I feel exists around the Guidelines at the moment.

Industry representative

4.37 Across all of the participant groups, it was felt that efforts need to be made to ensure that all alcohol companies (particularly smaller companies that are not part of the SGAIP) and rights-holders are fully aware of the Guidelines. There were various suggestions for raising awareness; the most common of which was using relevant existing events, forums or and networks - for example, those run by the Scottish Council for Development & Industry (SCDI), SportScotland and the SGAIP itself - as "conduits for getting the information out there". Other, less common suggestions included: running training courses or seminars; formally re-launching the Guidelines; and placing advertisements in relevant press stating that all major alcohol companies in Scotland have signed up to the Guidelines.

4.38 To facilitate ongoing engagement and compliance with the Guidelines, participants favoured the creation of an online portal or toolkit - either on the Scottish Government website or a standalone site - where a live version of the Guidelines could be readily accessed as and when required. A few people suggested that other documentation relevant to alcohol sponsorship - for example, licensing legislation, the Social Responsibility Standards and the Portman Code - could be included alongside the Guidelines to provide a 'one stop shop' for sponsors, rights-holders and event organisers alike.

4.39 Most participants, including both industry representatives and rights-holders, said they would also welcome more sharing of current and best practice in respect of the Guidelines so that they are better placed to both judge how their own company or organisation is performing in this area, and to identify new or better ways of approaching compliance. Again, a dedicated webpage or site, such as that described above, was the preferred vehicle for such information sharing.

Illustrating best practice is probably a very good way of improving, not necessarily the Guidelines themselves but the environment around them, so where good things happen we applaud them and put them somewhere other people can see them and go: "that's a good idea; I'm going to do that."

Industry representative

We have no issue with the Guidelines at all; we are happy to implement them but it would just be good to see what other people are doing. Is there a good uptake? Is everybody on the same page? Are we leading the way and can people learn from us?


Identifying and addressing non-compliance

4.40 Participants in the focus groups felt strongly that compliance with the Guidelines should remain voluntary rather than mandatory but they also felt that there needs to be a "mechanism" for picking up and addressing non-compliance. Views were divided over the form this mechanism should take. Some participants felt that any monitoring should be carried out by an independent body or stakeholder, suggesting that this would be more credible than self-regulation and consequently may "pre-empt" any potential tightening of the Guidelines. Others disagreed, however, favouring the continuation of a self-regulatory approach. Regardless of their preferred mechanism, participants broadly agreed that attempts to monitor compliance must be preceded by efforts to raise awareness of the Guidelines, as described above, and encourage all companies to sign up to them.

Before we get to the compliance point, I think you need to get through the education phase and the process of trying to sort this out if that's what the problem is…If you leap into compliance now you would get bombarded with complaints [about] people that are not sitting around this table, that aren't signed up to the Guidelines.

Industry representative

Bringing greater cross-national consistency in sponsorship Guidelines

4.41 Finally, a few of the industry representatives interviewed were keen to stress the importance of there being consistency of alcohol sponsorship Guidelines across the UK and, indeed, between the UK and Europe:

To me, working across the UK and, indeed, across Europe, the more consistency we can get, the easier it is for everybody…Best practice should be best practice across the UK.

Industry representative

I would encourage the [Scottish Government] to work with someone like Portman to find out exactly the need for [the Guidelines]. If there are areas specific to Scotland that they feel Portman hasn't captured within their code, then I would encourage them to build Guidelines around that.

Industry representative

4.42 Participants in the focus groups too identified consistency as an important issue and suggested that it should be a key consideration for the Portman Group as it develops its new code of practice for sponsorship. However, they also recognised that consistency is complicated by the fact that legislation and policy priorities in respect of alcohol differ in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Still, there was a view, and indeed an aspiration, that the Portman sponsorship code will be loosely based around the Scottish Guidelines but include "caveats" referencing relevant variation in legislation and practice across the UK.


Email: Iain MacAllister

Back to top