Raffi, the world-renowned Canadian kids’s singer, needed to speak about sports activities betting promoting. Over his profession, which stretches greater than 4 a long time, he mentioned he has by no means signed a business endorsement deal: “I would never advertise to children, because it’s unethical to do so.”

And that introduced the dialog again to hockey.

“It’s wrong to have sports betting ads during TV broadcasts of hockey games,” mentioned Raffi. “It’s a family audience. You’ve got impressionable youth and kids watching.”

Two of the NHL’s most marketable stars have signed endorsement offers with sports activities betting corporations, with Connor McDavid (BetMGM) and Auston Matthews (Bet99) each agreeing to phrases final 12 months. John Tavares, the present Maple Leafs captain, is a model ambassador for PROLINE, the sports activities betting model for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, an arm’s-length authorities company. (The Athletic additionally has a partnership with BetMGM.)

“I hate to say it — I really do,” mentioned Raffi, “but when I now watch Connor McDavid play, even though I enjoy his immense skills, something catches in my throat as I watch him.

“It doesn’t feel right, you know what I’m saying? We shouldn’t even have a hint of negative feeling when we watch someone whose skills we admire in hockey.”

Single-event sports activities betting has been authorized in Canada since 2021, however the rollout was left as much as every of the provinces. The tenor of Canadian promoting shifted dramatically when Ontario opened its market simply in time for the NHL playoffs last spring.

Commercials for competing sports activities betting corporations stuffed the breaks between play. Betting content material was integrated into intermission reveals — “It’s prostitution of what should be valuable time,” said former “Hockey Night in Canada” host Dave Hodge — together with different segments within the broadcast.

Brian Masse, the NDP Member of Parliament representing Windsor (Ont.) West, is exploring potential methods to handle the promoting for sports activities betting on Canadian airwaves. He mentioned his workplace is now trying into what levers may be accessible to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, amongst different avenues.

He was one of many early advocates for legalizing single-event sports activities betting in Canada, and in an interview with The Athletic, Masse mentioned he stands by that place. Canadians had been estimated to be inserting billions of {dollars} in wagers in offshore betting homes, he mentioned, and the objective of legalization was to tug a few of that cash again right into a regulated market, whereas additionally deflating income sources for organized crime.

The objective was additionally to assist Canadian casinos — and the various employees they make use of — in competitors with counterparts throughout the border within the United States, which was additionally shifting towards legalization.

Once the rollout started, Masse knew a wave of promoting would comply with: “I didn’t anticipate the level or volume of advertising, and then the NHL, in particular, with active players jumping in this way.”

He mentioned his focus is on present gamers who’re partnered with betting homes, together with advertisements or betting content material that’s hitting the airwaves throughout the broadcast of the sport itself.

“I just feel that these two things need to be harnessed into place for us to be able to do this responsibly,” mentioned Masse. “It is difficult to watch. I still stand by what we did. I think it’s more now about implementation, and we should take some lessons from Europe.”

Masse not too long ago appeared in an episode of “The Fifth Estate,” the CBC’s flagship information journal present, because it explored a few of the classes Canada may be taught from the United Kingdom, the place sports activities betting has been authorized for greater than a decade. The program highlighted the chance of playing habit, in addition to reactionary measures enacted by the federal government, together with limits on who can endorse sports activities betting merchandise, and when.

In North America, the key skilled sports activities leagues have adopted completely different guidelines on whether or not energetic gamers can promote for playing corporations. In an e mail to The Athletic, an NFL spokesperson mentioned the league doesn’t enable energetic gamers to seem in commercials selling sports activities betting.

Active NBA gamers are prohibited from proudly owning pursuits in — or endorsing — any product that permits for betting on NBA video games. In Major League Baseball, gamers are allowed to seem in commercials, however not in uniform, and never in something that promotes betting on the sport.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Football League mentioned its coverage continues to be being finalized.

In Canada, NHL gamers have the very best profile within the sports activities betting house.

“Current NHL rules do not prohibit players from appearing in ads for Sportsbooks under specific circumstances and subject to relevant laws and codes,” the league wrote in an e mail to The Athletic. “We have negotiated extensively with the NHLPA over how, and on what terms, we can and will permit these types of relationships, and have incorporated appropriate and sufficient safeguards to ensure the continuing integrity of our on-ice competition.”

Wayne Gretzky, the retired NHL legend, has additionally turn out to be a number one face for the sports activities betting business in Canada, has appeared in a number of commercials for BetMGM. (One, by which he co-stars with McDavid, has been on common rotation on Canadian tv this season.)

“I don’t understand the NHL in this, because they were one of the biggest proponents against having some kind of a legal system — even though they went to DraftKings and other types of online betting before others,” Masse mentioned. “And at the same time, now, they are really the most aggressive and wide-open policy when it comes to this type of behaviour.”

Before a latest Leafs recreation at Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, a betting-themed promotion was held simply earlier than the groups skated onto the ice for the pre-game warm-up. It performed out on the video board above centre ice, serving as a focus for any followers already of their seats, no matter their age.

“I respect children as people, and I want the best for them,” mentioned Raffi. “We know the harms of direct advertising to kids — especially to young children, who are my constituency — who are not old enough to appraise the pitch being made to them.

“That’s exploitation. It’s the last thing one should do. I would never even consider it, even for a moment. I’ve turned down lucrative commercial offers in the blink of an eye, because that’s not what I’m about.”

Raffi, who was born Raffi Cavoukian and is a member of the Order of Canada, mentioned that whereas sports activities betting doesn’t enchantment to him, he understands it’s a person alternative for adults to make. He mentioned he additionally understands that whereas the wave of promoting for sports activities betting will not be immediately geared toward kids, its placement in NHL video games will attain them, nonetheless.

“In sport, you’re watching the drama, which is real,” he mentioned. “And that ought to be enough to enjoy the sport. The sport certainly doesn’t need the added tension of this dubious sports betting practice, let alone during televised broadcasts of the game.”

(Photo: Andrew Lahodynskyj / NHLI by way of Getty Images)

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