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Sports Betting Company Drops Boris Johnson From Soccer Ad


Sports Betting Company Drops Boris Johnson From Soccer Ad


The script for the high-profile advertisement had been signed off, the star had been hired and the creative team at the Irish sports betting company Paddy Power was convinced it had scored a win ahead of a big sporting summer.

Even with his back turned, and even before the big reveal, the man in the No. 10 England soccer jersey would be instantly recognizable by his build and shock of light hair: Boris Johnson.

“I told you I would get us back in Europe,” the script called for Mr. Johnson to say, a glib — and untrue — quip from a man who helped lead the Brexit campaign that resulted in Britain’s exit from the European Union.

But the ad will never air.

Paddy Power, which is headquartered in Dublin, was forced to scrap the planned clip — intended to be the cornerstone of its advertising campaign for a busy summer that will include the European soccer championship and the Paris Olympics — after a backlash from its staff in Britain.

The decision was confirmed by two people familiar with the campaign and its demise. They said a script for the ad had been provided to Mr. Johnson. A spokesman for Mr. Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

The people asked not to be named to discuss the company’s internal decisions, and because of the sensitivity of aligning the firm with Mr. Johnson, who led his Conservative Party to a large majority in the 2019 national election but whose tenure ended after a series of scandals engulfed his premiership.

Paddy Power’s staff members in Britain, according to those people, said they were uncomfortable promoting a figure as divisive as Mr. Johnson, and particularly with language that poked fun at Brexit, an issue that polarized the country and damaged relationships with countries across the continent.

“We have been speaking to Boris Johnson’s team about a number of opportunities, one of which was an idea for a cameo role in a TV advert,” Paddy Power’s parent company, the U.S.-headquartered Flutter Entertainment, said in a statement to The New York Times.

The company confirmed that Mr. Johnson’s role in its Euro 2024 campaign, set to air in the coming weeks, had been scrapped but did not say why.

“We remain hopeful of working together in the near future,” it added.

A British tabloid newspaper, The Sun on Sunday, broke the news that Mr. Johnson would front Paddy Power’s Euro 2024 campaign earlier this month.

A gambling firm known for its publicity stunts, Paddy Power has never been afraid to push boundaries with its ads, which often draw significant attention, though not all of it has been positive. In 2010, a campaign featuring a blind soccer player appearing to kick a cat received hundreds of complaints. (Paddy Power said the ad “featured an action that was so unlikely that it was absurd” and that the cat was unharmed.)

Two years later, it paid a fine of about $100,000 to UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, on behalf of a Danish soccer player who promoted the brand on his underwear after scoring a goal at the 2012 European championship. The promotion broke rules against players displaying advertising on clothing other than soccer uniforms.

In 2020 it issued an apology for using “derogatory and offensive” language after sharing a social media video in which a soccer fan made homophobic comments.

Including Mr. Johnson was apparently a step too far for some staff members at Paddy Power’s offices in London.

The former Conservative leader’s pairing with Paddy Power contrasts with some of the views his government espoused about gambling. While he was prime minister, the government called for the English soccer federation to cancel a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with a prominent betting company.

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