Advertising watchdog decides former world champion boxer’s social media following means he is of “moderate risk” of appeal to under-18s
Betfred has been stung by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over a trio of tweets featuring former world champion boxer Anthony Joshua.
The ASA’s AI-powered Active Ad Monitoring system picked up three tweets sent by Betfred between March and April this year promoting Joshua’s fight against Jermaine Franklin in London.
The three tweets all featured clips of Joshua being interviewed about how he prepares for his bouts, including diet, fitness regime and mentality.
The ASA challenged whether the tweets included an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to those under the age of 18.
Betfred said it was “satisfied” Joshua was not of a strong appeal to under-18s in its response to the ASA’s query.
The Warrington-based bookmaker said its social media channels were age-gated to users over the age of 18, and where age verification was not in place, campaigns were only served to those over the age of 25.
In terms of using Joshua in the tweets, Betfred contended that while he was a “star” of the sport, he was reaching the end of his career and was not a “notable star”, and consequently had a low risk of appealing to children.
The operator highlighted that the 33-year-old’s social media following showed that only 3.85% of his followers were under the age of 18 on a worldwide basis, or 1.1 million followers in total.
Betfred asserted that UK-only data should be studied in the case, with the firm noting that approximately 280,000 of Joshua’s UK followers were under 18.
Additionally, given the fact boxing is an adult-oriented sport, often shown late at night and on pay-per-view, Betfred said this was unlikely to be of appeal to under-18s.
However, the ASA rejected Betfred’s claim, arguing that the former champion’s “success and celebrity” status make him an influential figure.
The ASA pointed out that Joshua had been ranked among the world’s top 10 boxers since 2014, is an Olympic champion and held a world title as recently as 2021.
In terms of social media following, the ASA said Joshua constituted a “moderate risk” of appeal to under-18s.
The ASA attested that 1.1 million followers worldwide under the age of 18 was a “substantially high number” and while it acknowledged Betfred’s view that UK-only data should be used, that data, according to the watchdog, was not available on each social media platform.
The ASA said that even using Betfred’s estimate of around 280,000 UK-only under-18 followers, that was “was still a significant number in absolute terms”.
The ASA added: “Although they made up a small proportion of his total followers, we considered that over 1.1 million 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 who were under 18, Mr Joshua was of inherent strong appeal to under-18s.”
The ASA informed Betfred that the ad must not appear again in its current form, and that the operator should not include “a person or character who had strong appeal to those under 18 years of age in their advertising in future”.
Betfred spokesperson Mark Pearson said: “Betfred disagrees with this ASA Council Ruling; it believes that CAP Guidance was followed at all times.
“Before posting three interviews with Anthony Joshua on our age-gated Twitter/X platform ahead of sponsoring his fight in April of this year, we undertook an analysis in line with guidance provided by the ASA, so that we could be satisfied that he did not have a strong appeal to under-18s.
“We established that of his world-wide social media following, just 3.85% were under-18. This formed an important part of our decision-making process, especially as we had previously been advised by the ASA in a training webinar that a 5% threshold (of under-18 followers on social media) could be relied upon as a factor tending to indicate that the individual concerned did not have a strong appeal to under-18s.
“We also took into account CAP Guidance, which clearly states that boxing is an adult-orientated sport.
“Betfred is committed to ensuring that our marketing does not have a strong appeal to under-18s, and we are firmly of the view that the posting of these interviews with Anthony Joshua in no way undermined that commitment.
“It should also be remembered that the ASA did not receive a single complaint from a member of the public about our association with Anthony Joshua in this respect.
“We will be seeking an independent review of this unjust decision.”