William Hill’s Australian Open sponsorship faced heavy backlash on Social Media

William Hill has made a major push into the Australian online gambling market after buying local betting house Tom Waterhouse in August 2013. Hence I can imagine the excitement in William Hill’s Marketing department the day that their sponsorship of the 2016 Australian Open in tennis was made official.

The William Hill sponsorship of the Australian open made headlines as William Hill was the first gambling company ever in history allowed to sponsor the Australian Open – one of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments.

Australian Open

The Australian Open turned out to be a Grand Slam not only for Djokovic, winning over Murray in the final, but also for William Hill. According to Australian AdNews, William Hill has seen a 258% year-on-year increase in in-play bets, which we assume they attribute to their status as official betting partner of the Australian Open.

William Hill made sure to fully capitalize on the sponsorship. TV adverts were produced and aired throughout the tournament and their Twitter account was full of competitions such as #ChaseTheAce where punters were refunded 1 dollar per Ace their staked player hit.

Given William Hill’s status as sponsor of the tournament I was keen on understanding the online buzz surrounding bookmakers and the Australian open – and effectively trying to measure the effectiveness of William Hill’s sponsorship. 

Who was being talked about and what did they say? In order to understand this I used data from our iGB Social Monitor solution and created a new dashboard filled with a couple of new search queries filtering out all online buzz related to bookmakers and the Australian Open only. 

igb social monitor - william hill australian open

For those data savvy readers of you, here’s the search query string used:

(“australian open” OR “tennis australia” OR “australia tennis” OR AustralianOpen)

— This is looking for all variations of key phrases related to the tournament in body text —

OR

(title:(“australian open” OR “tennis australia” OR “australia tennis”) NOT site:twitter.com)

— This is looking for all variations of key phrases related to the tournament in headers but excluding Twitter as headers are considered authors. This won’t exclude any tweets. —

OR

hashtags:(AusOpen* OR AussiOpen OR AustralianOpen* OR TennisAustralia OR AustraliaTennis)

— This is looking for all variations hashtags used on Twitter and Instagram. —

OR

at_mentions:(TennisAustralia OR AustralianOpen)

— This is looking for all tweets mentioning the official Twitter accounts —

The below chart shows the volume of online mentions in English language across any online channel about the Australian Open and bookmakers between the 10th of January and 1st of February. For example if someone posted a blog article or tweeted “I’m placing a bet on Djokovic to win #WillHill #AusOpen” it would be counted as one (1) mention in the below chart.

Australian open bookmakers online social buzz

My first guess, knowing that William Hill sponsor the event, would be that they would top the charts of mentions. But with just over 2,000 mentions, online bookmaker Bet365 beat William Hill by just a few hundred mentions.

Analysing Bet365 mentions data, it turns out that most of the mentions about Bet365 was about them live streaming the matches online on their site.

I also found it interesting that Paddy Power, otherwise a huge brand in these circumstances, only had 3-400 mentions.

However, the William Hill sponsorship of the Australian Open turned out to be very controversial. The timing wasn’t great – Just as the tournament started, BBC and Buzz feed published evidence on match fixing related to top ranked players over the last decade. People and players alike where also very opposed to the fact that a gambling company was allowed to sponsor the tournament. Murray was quoted called it “hypocritical” and No. 1 ranked Djokovic said it was “borderline”.

Murray called williamhills sponsorship borderline

Subsequently we can see here in this graph that the negative sentiment for William Hill surrounding the tournament is very negative.

William Hill Australian Open negative sentiment

It wasn’t only the players that turned against William Hill, but Twitter was full of angry or sarcastic Tweets about William Hill. In-between newsreels talking about tennis match fixing, William Hill broadcasted their TV ads.

Even if William Hill reported a strong uplift in in-play betting, I don’t think this is what Tom Waterhouse had in mind back in October when he first announced the sponsorship.

About Joakim Nilsson

I've this thing that I'm obsessed with helping brands and organisations to make better use of their social media data... so in 2013 I launched the SCRM Cloud, now a Paris based Social CRM agency providing some of the biggest names and brands with technology and professional services for social media monitoring, analytics and engagement. My +10 years experience in various online marketing & communications roles have provided me with a solid grounding in both operations and strategy, most notably as Head of social for one of Europe's largest iGaming groups. Having an entrepreneurial mindset and genuine passion for Internet applications spending part of my time as a small seed investor with various Internet start-ups such as; Curious Hat (500startups), Casumo, Casino Saga, FundedByMe, Nordic Design Collective, Kyoogi, AvalanShare, Unified Inbox, Åre Water, Virtuous Vodka and NOA Potions.