Saku Suurhall Unibet rebranding does not infringe advertising laws

The Saku Suurhall will be renamed the Unibet suurhall, from January 1, 2023.
The Saku Suurhall will be renamed the Unibet suurhall, from January 1, 2023. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

The renaming of the Saku Suurhall, a major concert, sports and events venue in Tallinn, to reflect its new sponsor, gambling company Unibet, will not infringe advertising laws.

Diana Lints, a lawyer with the main consumer watchdog body in Estonia, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA), said that whatever sponsor's name the Suurhall takes, this will not constitute an advertisement in and of itself, in the understanding of the relevant legislation – the Advertising Act.

With regard to gambling companies in particular, restrictions relate more to the appropriate use of trademarks and brands, she added.

For instance, a gambling firm's branding may not be attached to a place of economic or professional activity, if the branding encourages or glamorizes gambling.

Unibet, a Swedish-founded operator, do not infringe this requirement in their sponsorship of the Suurhall, LInts said.

"At present the Unibet brand itself does not contain an invitation to start gambling, nor does it create the impression that this gambling somehow increases success. For this reason, there are no problems relating to the law on advertising," Lints went on.

However, Pille-Riin Indermitte, head of the gambling addiction counseling center (Hasartmängusõltuvuse nõustamiskeskus), said that in her opinion, gambling is already advertised too much in public spaces as it is.

My personal opinion is that gambling is an arena that really shouldn't be advertised at all," Indermitte said.

A survey last year revealed that one in two Estonian residents between the ages of 15 and 74 reported they had gambled in some form in the preceding two years, while around 10 percent of the populace falls into a problem gambling at-risk group.

Six percent of those who have taken notice of a gambling ad admitted to the survey, conducted by market research firm Kantar Emor, that it had had an effect on them, with the 15-29-year-old age bracket the most susceptible to this.

ERR Sport's own Kristjan Kalkun meanwhile says that restrictions the state has set on advertising gambling and alcohol have led to firms seeking ways in which they can maintain visibility in the face of intense competition – one of which is to be associated with the name of a sports arena or a sports team.

Kalkun said: "Estonian law does not quite permit everything, but if [companies] manage to become a sponsor of a sports club, for example, the name will be heard.

"These names need generally to be stated or written down, which means that at some point a person starts to associate a particular kind of company or environment with this particular club, which in turn is beneficial to these companies," he went on.

Much depends on how the national sports and culture support policy is structured, Kalkun went on.

"It seems to me that there is currently a little less money flowing through Estonian sports than would be preferred. Plenty of state money is put towards supporting the Estonian Olympic Committee's areas of activity, and its athletes, but the club and team sports side is somewhat of an 'orphan'," he continued.

"This means clubs are looking for ways to fulfill their budgets and will thus probably take on whoever is ready to help out."

Kalkun also noted that, however, the integral part of sports clubs names in other countries, including Finland as well as the U.S., do not relate to sponsors, citing ice hockey and American football teams as examples.

The practice of linking a club name to a sponsor or company may date back to the Soviet era, he said.

"If I come to think of it, in the 1920s-1940s (when Estonia was independent – ed.), Estonian football clubs had very specific names - Tallinna Sport, Tallinna Kalev etc."

"At some point in time, perhaps in the 1960s, team names started to transition to those of factories and producers, when teams like Norma, Dvigatel and Pärnu Kalakombinaat arose," he went on.

"These names were carried on also into the 1990s, but it seems to me that this is where the culture came derives from, whereby we no longer separate the name of the club from the name of the sponsor," Kalkun added.

The Suurhall itself is owned by businessman Marcel Vihmann via his Best Idea OÜ company.

Manager of the facility Siim Ammon told ERR that the name change arose when Saku's contract was due to expire, while Unibet came up with a strong offer at the right moment.

There was no ethical dimension to the use of a gambling company's brand name, he added, and would not promote gambling.

Ammon said: "In my opinion, it is a slippery slope when you start drawing red lines between companies that follow the law and pay their taxes to the Estonian state, and then claim that some are more 'correct' than others. I would in fact be delighted that there is someone who actually invests in sports and culture in Estonia."

Other examples of gambling companies' sponsorship of sports in Estonia includes the Coolbet ice hockey league, the basketball and hockey leagues sponsored by Finnish casino Paf, and the Optibet women's volleyball league.

The Tallinn University of Technology's (TalTech) basketball team is called Taltech/Optibet, as another example.

Other venues in Estonia to be strongly associated with sponsor names include the Alexela Concert Hall, formerly the Nordea hall, in central Tallinn, and the A. le Coq Arena, the main football venue in Estonia.

The Saku - soon to be Unibet - Suurhall was built 20 years ago, to host the Eurovision Song Contest Finals, which followed Estonia's victory in the competition in 2001.

The venue becomes the Unibet Suurhall from January 1, 2023.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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