Officials from two of Canada’s top sports television networks have said that despite frequent negative media reports about the barrage of sports-betting advertising, customer complaints have been minimal and have tapered off over the first year of regulated online gaming in Ontario.
Much like in a new U.S. market, the arrival of privately-operated online sports betting in Ontario was accompanied by a significant amount of advertising.
Although the content of the advertising was different to a U.S. market due to Ontario’s prohibitions on offering any type of inducement in public advertising, such as a deposit bonus or free bets, the volume has remained high.
Bu two of Canada’s top sports networks, the Bell Media-owned TSN and Rogers Communications-owned Sportsnet, both utilize self-imposed hourly caps on how many sports-betting ads that they air.
Executives from both networks said during a panel discussion hosted by the Canadian Gaming Association on Tuesday (April 4) to commemorate the province’s first year of online gaming that they are mindful of other product integrations beyond just traditional commercial spots.
"We focused on how the in-content references to odds or any other related items around sports betting would help advance the story, and it’s always how does this drive context for the viewer," said Stewart Johnston, senior vice president of sales and sports for Bell Media.
“We’re very aware there needs to be a balance and there can be too much,” Johnston said.
Alan Dark, chief revenue officer for Rogers Sports Media, added that the company uses broadcast templates to map out how to properly deploy sports-betting content.
“Our traditional template looks something like a two-to-three minute feature in a pregame show, and then an incremental feature in the live telecast, usually in an intermission or at some point like the third or fourth inning of a baseball game, and we kind of limit ourselves to that time,” Dark said.
One area that can throw that balance out of sync is in situations where Canadian broadcasters import feeds from U.S. broadcasters.
“Other than the commercial time, the spots that we put into those telecasts, those are coming prepackaged to us,” Dark said. “So anything that kind of happens, at the rink level, in the stadium level, those are things that we don't have any capacity today to kind of overlay on top of those.”
Both Dark and Johnston said that customer complaints actually submitted to the respective networks related to sports-betting advertising have been minimal.
“We get thousands and thousands of feedback points from our viewers every year, and I'll tell you the number one piece of feedback we get at Rogers sports and media usually has to deal with movies and scary movies, and what time we're putting those scary movies on,” Dark said.
“We got substantially less feedback about this specific category, and 70 percent of that feedback that we've had over the last year came within the first two to three months of launch,” he continued. “Since that point, it's down to, you know, tens of comments on a monthly basis.
“If we felt like there was a point in time where we needed to shift or change that approach, we definitely would.”
Johnston added that Bell runs public service announcements regarding responsible gaming at a 15-to-1 ratio to sports-betting ads.
“We knew that going at that level probably would cause some confusion for those folks who think they’re seeing so many sports-betting ads, probably seeing that many responsible gaming ads they kind of group those all together,” he said.
“That small downside or confusion is nothing compared to what we wanted to do with making sure we’re getting that messaging out.
“We get a lot of feedback as well and I’ll tell you we’ve had less than 35 complaints in a year … and it was a little front-loaded when it was new for everybody."
Catherine MacLeod, president and CEO of thinkTV, which clears television advertisements for air in Canada, said that although the organization cleared more than 33,000 commercials in Canada in 2022, only 347 were online gaming advertisements.
Advertisements for unregulated sites represented less than 0.2 percent of Canada’s gaming ads, down from as high as 4 percent in years prior to Ontario’s online gaming regulation, she said.
“The regulated market is definitely making a difference,” MacLeod said. “It’s encouraging to be working with so many people … who are operating at a level of collaboration that we haven’t seen in our industry before.”
“From an Ontario perspective, in this regulated market, we don’t accept dot-net ads anymore,” Dark said. “In other parts of the country, it’s primarily based on some of the relationships that some of our teams have, we’ve kind of made some decisions to accept and support the teams more specifically and allow them to run that.”
“I think in a world where all markets in Canada were regulated, I think the answer would that there wouldn’t be a place [for unregulated gaming ads],” Johnston added.