In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Football Sinks Deeper in the Booze Money Mire

our photoshop street team did a little adbusting on Corona's UT ad.Sporting events and sports broadcasts still form one of the great common grounds in America—where people of all ages, all beliefs, from all walks of life, with every kind of lived experience, can come together and be flooded with alcohol advertising. Despite escalating alcohol-related violence at NFL games, the NFL has decided to abandon its policy of rejecting hard liquor ad dollars and allow beer, liquor, rum, and other spirits to buy a place in professional football broadcasts. Not to be outdone by the pros, NCAA’s University of Texas has signed a sponsorship agreement with Corona despite the fact that binge drinking on campuses is epidemic, and a large portion of the student body is not eligible to drink.

The NFL’s new open-door policy comes with a few restrictions. First, liquor ads are limited to four per game, and no more than two in any quarter. Second, the ads cannot be football themed, and 20% must have a social responsibility message. (Though those campaigns may well do more harm than good.) However, the beer industry—a major investor in NFL exposure, with Budweiser paying out almost $1.5 billion for an exclusive sponsorship—carved out a major concession for letting the rival spirits industry to the table: the opportunity to advertise “flavored malt beverages,” which had also been heretofore banned. Flavored malt beverages, better known as alcopops, are Big Alcohol’s entrée of choice into underage drinkers’ hearts, stomachs, livers, and wallets.

If NFL ads fail booze companies in bringing in underage drinkers, college athletics give them a second shot. Historically, colleges have shied away from funding sports through alcohol money, realizing that, with the large number of underage undergrads, directly promoting alcohol formed a total abandonment of their responsibilities to create a healthy environment for their students. But lately, institutions of higher education have backed away from that responsibility, embracing sponsorships and co-branding while hiding behind the same "social responsibility" messaging that has done nothing at all to curb alcohol problems in the NFL. The latest warm embrace of alcohol comes from the University of Texas, whose newly minted sponsorship deal allows Corona to use UT’s “Longhorns” logo in its own advertising, along with the slogan “Horns up, limes in!” UT has failed even beyond the level which many colleges fail in curtailing alcohol use. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Longhorns’ home stadium has the highest per-capita beer sales in the country. This may explain why the Longhorns have not one but two official beers; possibly playing off currents of xenophobia, MillerCoors bought the rights to be the official domestic beer of UT.

This saturation of football with alcohol advertising needs to end. The effects on underage drinking are apparent, and the effects on alcohol-related harm on adults are becoming undeniable. It is time that sports organizations recognize that they important in the lives of fans of all ages, and stop delivering their most vulnerable viewers to their most predatory advertisers.

READ MORE about getting Big Alcohol out of sporting events.

WATCH youth-created videos that seek to Free Our Sports.

Big Alcohol Buys Out Craft On Its Way to Monopoly

AB InBev has dead eyes, like a doll's eyes.In late July, international beer giant Sapporo announced it was acquiring Anchor Brewing, a large-but-limited, inconic San Francisco "craft" brewery. The news was met with dismay in craft brewing circles, but it falls well in line with a disturbing trend among megabrewers: buying out small brewers but continuing their labels, with an eye to flooding the shelves with faux-independent breweries. In the short run, this badgers smaller brewers off the shelves. In the long run, this is a recipe for monopoly.

Sapporo's acquisition was just the latest aggressive move by Big Alcohol. In May, Heineken ate Petaluma's Lagunitas. In 2015, Constellation (the parent company of Corona) bought San Diego's Ballast Point. The list goes on.

This is not merely a disappointing development for small brewers. These buyouts form the basis for Big Alcohol's current strategy to own the shelves. As NPR reports, megabrewers use these subsidiary brands in two ways: first, the multitude of captive brands allow them to flood distributors' shelves and local taps; and second, they create confusion among consumers who are trying to avoid these destructive and predatory global brands.

By grabbing for a greater market share, Big Alcohol threatens to further disintegrate an already-threatened "three tier" system. The system mandates that brewers not own distributors, but who cares about the integrity of that distinction if the distributors can't distribute anything but a megabrewer's many brands? In an era of more and more consolidation and its concomitantly growing lobbying power, the United States needs every systemic brake it can get.

Even if consumers wish to be part of that braking system, Big Alcohol has multiple tricks up its sleeve to fool the discerning eye. According to NPR, the "shelf-crowding" has the additional effect of making consumers think that certain beers--such as Goose Island, Sculpin, or Lagunitas--are more "authentic" or "ethical" than mass-market labels, even though the profits land in the coffers or Bud, Corona, or Heineken. Efforts to bend the market and manipulate this perception of "authenticity" do not stop at the tap; AB InBev bought into beer reviewing site RateBeer describes itself as "an active forum for beer lovers to come together and share opinions of beers, and beer retailers in a free environment. ... [T]he premier resource for consumer-driven beer ratings, features on beer culture and industry events, weekly beer-related editorials, and an internationally recognized, annual RateBeer Best competition." The potential to manipulate the market is evident. Imagine if Applebee's bought Yelp.

And while the industry pulls the wool over consumers' and regulators' eyes, Washington D.C. prepares to cut them an enormous check. The Craft Beer Modernization Act (S. 236/H.R. 747) offers billions of dollars of tax breaks over the coming decade to "craft" brewers, wineries, and distillers making up to 6 million barrels per year. For context, the entire craft brew industry grew by 1.4 million barrels last year; 6-million-barrel breweries are themselves Big Alcohol companies. With international monster brands waiting to gobble up these fake-craft labels, then gobble up each other, the only logical endpoint is a single company with a stranglehold on a lucrative, addictive, and dangerous product. If they are allowed to, big fish always eat smaller fish. Whatever friendly, rustic authenticity sub-brands like Lagunitas, Anchor, Sculpin, etc. project, they are not your buddies--they're just chum.

READ MORE on the giveaways written into S. 236/H.R. 747.

READ MORE about Big Alcohol's pulling of government strings.

Rhode Island Legislators Not Just Drunk On Power

Reports of rampant alcohol use in the chamber surface amidst efforts to repeal sales tax on beer.

Duck boats driving right into bays full of beerThe Rhode Island legislature is as likely to engage in libations as deliberations, according to an interview given by freshman representative Moira Walsh to WPRO News. "You cannot operate a motor vehicle when you've had two beers," she said, "but you can make laws that affect people's lives forever when you're half in the bag?"

Despite dismissive comments from House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, the reports jibe with patterns among other lawmakers. California briefly had to provide free transportation to its legislators after a rash of DUI arrests. In Washington, D.C., nearly half of all congressional staff drink at social events as part of the job. As one respondent put it, "Parties are work." Only two states—Idaho and Oklahoma—forbid lawmakers to drink on the job.

This culture of wetting beaks and signing bills may help explain why Rhode Island is considering repealing its beer tax, citing business lost to neighboring Massachusetts. Massachusetts has no beer sales tax, making Representative Blake Filippi have nightmares of people running to the border to stock up on cases. But it seems Rep. Filippi is not having the right nightmares—according to SAMHSA, Rhode Island has the fourth highest rate of underage binge drinking in the country, far in excess of the national rate (though much-envied Massachusetts isn't far behind). Meanwhile, 92.6% of Rhode Islanders in need of alcohol abuse treatment never receive it.

Research has shown time and time again that a very simple and straightforward way to both reduce consumption and fund treatment is to levy greater alcohol taxes. "Beating Massachusetts," on the other hand, has little demonstrable effect on public health. The need to raise, not lower, alcohol taxes should be evident to Rep. Filippi and his colleagues. We here at Alcohol Justice cannot imagine what could be clouding their judgment.

READ MORE about the power of smart alcohol tax policy.