If you ever doubted that Australian betting operator Sportsbet was owned by those Paddy Power pranksters, look no further. On the eve of the rugby union series between the Melbourne Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions, Sportsbet has painted – using non-toxic material – a 170m x 90m mural on a field outside Melbourne Airport, possibly depicting a winking cartoon wallaby sodomizing a cartoon lion. Sportsbet claims the image (the scale of which can best be appreciated by the video below) merely shows the animals ‘cuddling,’ but underneath the massive Sportsbet logo is the phrase ‘rooting for the wallabies,’ a play on words even non-Aussies will grasp.
Subtle, it ain’t, but it will be well familiar to European punters. The Paddy Power knack for pulling off stunts yielding maximum eyeballs is the stuff of legend, from taunting Torres to lucky pants to giant lucky pants to adverts that routinely earn ‘most complained about’ honors. Clearly, Paddy has taken their cue from celebrated Irish wit Oscar Wilde, who believed that there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
Over the next month, Sportsbet estimates 1m travellers will pass over the mural during their approach for landing. The idea that the first impression visitors will get from Melbourne is one of cartoon sodomy has left a bad taste in the mouth of 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell, who said the mural “wasn’t a good look” for the city. More importantly, both state and federal politicians are expressing their displeasure and their annoyance at not having been consulted ahead of time. Environment Minister Ryan Smith claims the property’s leaseholder – the Living Legends horse retirement facility, with which Sportsbet has a promotional relationship – has breached the terms of its lease and should therefore restore the field to its pristine, non-orgiastic status… pronto.
This may not have been the best moment for an Aussie bookmaker to go for the shock value jugular. The country has only recently witnessed the public drawing and quartering of independent bookie Tom Waterhouse for having the temerity to advertise his perfectly legal product in a perfectly legal way. You can draw a straight line between Waterhouse’s winning ways and Prime Minister Julia Gillard‘s decision to threaten broadcasters with a total ban on gambling ads if they didn’t respect their boundaries (which were never really defined, but whatever). If Sportsbet’s prank results in further restrictions on betting operators, it will be Sportsbet’s fellow bookies who feel like they’ve been wallabied.