School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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10 Jan 2020

Experts in Sport: Does sponsorship in sport have an unhealthy relationship with junk food?

January is a time many people re-evaluate their diets and put away those sugary snacks after over-indulging during the festive period.

Many new year’s resolutions are orientated around sport and fitness, but have the lines now become blurred as major sporting organisations continue affiliations with processed food and drink brands through sponsorship?

In the latest episode of the ‘Experts in Sport’ podcast, host Martin Foster (Applied Sport Management Lead) is joined by Joe Piggin, senior lecturer in Sport Management, to discuss junk food sponsorship in sport and its potential impact on wider society.

Joe touches on various topics, including what is considered as junk food, brand responsibility, the part ‘pester power’ plays and the reasons why specific companies see sport as a viable platform to push their products.

“The simple marketing logic is that sponsors connect with consumers at a very emotional time in their lives. Sport is emotional, it's about being involved, it's about joy and the uncertainty of an outcome, all that leads to consumers being excited,” said Joe.

“That's the reason why sports organisations, clubs, and events are targeted by food companies, and in the past, alcohol and cigarette companies. They’re still targeted by gambling companies and if you think about these four examples; gambling, cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food, those are things which can cause a lot of harm in society.

“But - and this is where we get into the economics of it - the companies which sell a lot of these types of products have the money to be able to sponsor sport as these products are cheap to make at scale.” 

Also discussed are the repercussions of brand power and how conflicting messages could set a dangerous precedent, as Joe explains:

“What I have an issue with is at Rio 2016 (Olympic Games) they adorn the ultra-processed foods such as Coco Pops and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which are very high in sugar.

“If you're a parent thinking, well, I shouldn't be buying this high sugar cereal for my child, but at the same time on the packets, you could win a day with an Olympic hero - that’s some very confusing messaging. The parents are thinking, oh, if it's got Olympic athletes on the packet, it must be okay…it does create some real issues in terms of health promotion.”

Martin and Joe also look at the future of sport sponsorship, including possible next steps to protect the health of young people. 

The podcast is available to download in full by visiting Buzzsprout, where listeners can also subscribe to receive an alert once new episodes are published.

The ‘Experts in Sport’ podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with external thought leaders to discuss the latest research and hot topics in sport and academia.