Perhaps the ultimate way for companies to engage consumers, advertising is vital for firms of all shapes, sizes, and business types to promote products. For the betting sector, sports advertising is understandably the ideal channel, but the industry’s marketing methods are facing scrutiny.

In Canada there is just one regulated betting market, in Ontario, the country’s most populous province. Industry stakeholders have noted, however, that the general public are becoming fatigued with regular betting advertising, and bookies are facing restrictions to sports marketing activity.

“People don’t want to watch hockey with their kids and see a load of gambling ads,” said Amanda Brewer, Senior Executive at the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), at last week’s Canadian Gaming Summit (CGS) conference in Toronto.

“But there are other stakeholders, not just the athlete and the operator, it’s the broadcaster and the league. There’s an ecosystem at play in terms of how sports betting ads are being shown during the games, and it’s bleeding across into other provinces.”

Brewer was one of four speakers on the panel, joined by Dave Rivers, SVP Marketing at PointsBet Canada, one of the country’s biggest online bookmakers; Natasha Questel, Chief Social Purpose Officer and VP Marketing at the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC); and Brian Egger, Senior Gaming Analyst at media outlet Bloomberg.

“People don’t want to watch hockey with their kids and see a load of gambling ads.”

Amanda Brewer

Ontario’s betting market is over two years old, launching in April 2022 as the one and only open market in Canada. The remaining markets are home to just one betting and gaming company, the provincial lottery firm, such as the BCLC in British Columbia.

As private bookmakers in Ontario sought to gain market share in the months and years after market launch, sports sponsorship and marketing was an understandable avenue. As in more established markets like the UK, however, this led to concerns around consumer health, especially that of young sports viewers.

Rivers’ firm, PointsBet, is one such company to have engaged in sports marketing activity to engage new audiences. The bookmaker has partnered with the likes of the NHL Alumni Association (NHLAA), whilst its counterpart to the south, PointsBet US, works with a number of teams and leagues.

In Ontario, these bookmakers are prevented from featuring celebrities, including sportspeople. For an industry which has for many years made heavy use of athlete partnerships for marketing, this is a significant burden.

“When it comes to celebrity and endorsement, in Ontario I can’t use those to build brand awareness and consideration,” Rivers remarked. “But in every other market in Canada, grey competitors continue to utilise that channel.”

The panel took place on the second day of CGS, in the midst of the Stanley Cup finals between Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers. In Ontario, licensed operators would have been limited in sports marketing during the event.

As Rivers pointed out, in other markets across the country, firms would have more freedom, with the Stanley Cup finals being a national broadcast after all, and hockey being one of Canada’s widely followed sports.

“How many operators were betting there?” Rivers continued, referring to operator activity during the Oilers v Panthers game. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were licensed here in Ontario, but that was a national broadcast across the entire country. So in every jurisdiction, they saw an alignment of team and player.”

He added: “For me there’s an opportunity for the framework to improve, to protect the interests of both provinces and private operators. I’m not sure it does that to create the lane that allows it to operate in a way that I would describe as constructive.”

So where do the provincial operators fit in with regard to this? Provincial operators are some of the most important stakeholders in Canadian betting, the BCLC being the sole operator in Ontario, the Alberta Lottery in Alberta, and the Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC) in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“Everyones looking at putting a lot of dollars and investment behind the media.”

Natasha Questel

The juxtaposition of Ontario’s sports marketing rules present for the remaining Canadian provinces can be an issue from a customer relations perspective, according to the BCLC’s Questel.

“Everyones looking at putting a lot of dollars and investment behind the media, and you get that bleed, that spill, into the market,” she said.

“Players may see ads from operators who are not active in the province, and it would be illegal to bet with them. It can be confusing for consumers.”

Debates around sports betting marketing and the relationship between sports and betting are relatively new to Ontario. These debates are not, however, new to the gambling industry – far from it.

Over in the UK, extensive public and political concern around the potential negative impacts of betting marketing in sports contributed to the onset of the Gambling Act review, a legislative review of Britain’s gambling laws which took over two-and-half years.

Within this context, many operators opted to enact a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on betting advertising during sports fixtures. The Premier League, the UK’s most widely followed and most lucrative sports league, will phase out front-of-shirt sponsorship deals from season 2026/27 onwards.

Ontario, like other meeting betting markets, has been keeping track with changes in more established regulated markets. The success of sports marketing measures in other countries will no doubt inform how the province, and other Canadian jurisdictions, formulate their own policies.

“If we’re talking about a whistle-to-whistle ban, part of the challenge we have in Ontario is because the market is so new. No one’s done a lot of research to quantify the volume of advertising we’re seeing, if it’s really as much as we think it is, what the effects of it are, or if there are effects on minors. We haven’t got any data yet. 

“I know there are some research projects underway, and that’s going to be good, but I don’t know if a whistle-to whistle ban has been proven to help address any of the UK’s issues. If it has, then that is something we should definitely keep on our radar for how this market evolves.”

Questions around betting advertising, particularly those in sport, are not just an issue for betting stakeholders, though. Sports broadcasting is a big business, and in a continent with five widely followed sports leagues – the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS, alongside various other tournaments – the US and Canada represent some of the world’s biggest markets.

“I don’t know if a whistle-to whistle ban has been proven to help address any of the UK’s issues.”

Amanda Brewer

Regarding advertising, broadcasters have the ability to pick and choose which adverts are showcased across sports broadcasts to comply with different laws across jurisdictions. This approach has potential for Canada too.

“The technology is readily available in terms of the media organisations to decide on what you can and can’t see in a US feed. So when you think about leagues, it only exists because there’s a will to allow it,” Rivers observed.

“From a technical standpoint it’s very easy to wall up Canada from a national broadcast point of view, and gate US versus Canada territorial broadcasts, linear or over the top. In Canada, there are three major networks that represent most of the media outlets in Canada in terms of brands that are available to us. 

“If we’re going to have a meaningful conversation with Canadians, and access to and understanding of, there needs to be a level of accountability not only with broadcasters, but with the digital outlets that sit within Canada as well.”

The sports marketing debate in Canada will remain a sticking point in the country’s betting and sports fields for some time. It is clear that operators are keen to engage with sports fans through marketing. Additionally, discussions at CGS showed that leagues are keen to partner with the industry for the fan engagement and revenue opportunities it poses.

Finding the right balance regarding advertising, between engaging fans, ensuring player protection is maintained and avoiding the public backlash that has been encountered in the Netherlands and the UK, will not be an easy task as betting continues to grow in Canada.

Previous articleThe esports report – FIFAe World Cup shifts to Rocket League
Next articleDAZN ups its tennis game with ATP Tour LatAm partnership