Sunday, 12 February 2012

Confronting the Saints

It is essential to personally confront the pokie industry if the harm of poker machines is ever to be  reduced. One can present compelling research and evidence based solutions but failure is inevitable unless the message is delivered face to face - nose to nose. So that's why I took my son and my mate, Stephen Mayne, along to the Saint Kilda FC annual general meeting last week. This was our view.

I must disclose that while I don't know every stat or historical fact, I am devoted to the Saints. Measured by emotional involvement, our loss to Geelong and draw with Collingwood are two of my four greatest spectator sporting moments. I only want the best for my club.

Given that Stephen gave up an evening with his young family, I encouraged him to choose our seating. The result was that we were face to face with new coach Scott Waters and about half the Saint's squad including the charmingly self amused Stephen Milne.

The managing director of Coles, Ian McLeod is a St Kilda director. Appropriately, Stephen's questions were aimed at uncovering whether Mr McLeod's company will be supporting the Saints. In light of their progressive stance on limiting the exposure of pokie sights and sounds, Stephen also asked about what Mr McLeod's view would be on the Saints' own pokies. He insisted that Mr Mcleod speak for himself. The answers from Mr McLeod were polite but not specific. At least, he had to confront the issue.

My own statement addressed the Centrebet sponsorship. I began by stating my support for the steps that the board has taken to clean up the Saints' off-field behaviour. This is an important first step.

I expressed my strong feelings that the St Kilda brand should not be used to promote online gambling. There is wide consensus from research, our political leaders and the community at large that the normalisation of betting through sporting sponsorships and commercial messages is a really bad thing. A mate pointed out is that the Saints' association with gambling puts off other advertisers.

As I stated to the Productivity Commission when I appeared before them in 2009, one must never forget that gambling is a harmful form of adult only entertainment. It is entirely inappropriate to be marketed to children. Yet by an online gambling logo being prominently placed on every bit of apparel, my Saints are being used to market online gambling to children.The desperation for prominence results in Centrebet logo being larger than our own!!

It is not just about logo size, this sponsorship is all wrong. The sponsor's promotion of online betting is made worse when the Saints, quite correctly, see their future as a family friendly footy club associated with the bayside communities of Melbourne.

In the interest of the club, I asked that management consider giving notice of termination to Centrebet. With respect to the Saints' pokies I asked that they join with the Geelong football club indicating their support for a $1 maximum bet per pokie spin.

The response from President Westaway was disappointing. Indicating their desperation for $$$, his point was to ask me what sponsors I might suggest. Given the considerable marketing experience of Mr Nettlefold, Saints general manager, and Ian McLeod, Coles Managing Director, whatever I might suggest would be sincere but naive to say the least.

But, on reflection, they might approach the state government who is spending millions on a campaign to arrest the growth of online gambling.

But the Saints Centrebet sponsorship would roadblock that.

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