Controlling the illusion of control: a grounded theory of sports betting advertising in the UK


Sports betting advertising has arguably permeated contemporary sport consumption in many countries. Advertisements build narratives that represent situations and characters that normalize betting behaviour and raise public concerns regarding their detrimental effect on vulnerable groups.

Adopting a grounded theory approach, the present study examined a British sample of sports betting advertisements (N = 102) from 2014 to 2016.
The analysis revealed that individual themes aligned in a single core narrative, constructing a dual persuasive strategy of sports betting advertising:
(i) to reduce the perceived risk involved in betting (with themes such as betting with friends, free money offers, humour, or the use of celebrities) while
(ii) enhancing the perceived control of bettors (including themes of masculinity and sport knowledge).

In addition, new technological features of sports betting platforms (e.g. live in-play betting) were used by advertisers to build narratives in which the ability to predict a sports outcome was overlapped by the ability of bettors to use such platforms, equalizing the ease of betting with the ease of winning.

Based on the data analysed, it was concluded that the construction of a magnified idea of control in sports betting advertising is a cause for concern that requires close regulatory scrutiny.

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