Beer Sponsorships and the NCAA
No one is willing to say, or even guess precisely, how much value the NCAA adds to its $6.2-billion basketball television contract with CBS by allowing the network to sell and air beer and other malt-beverage ads.
"(With) a truly national property, which is obviously what the NCAA and its championships are, you're talking a significant investment from these alcoholic beverage concerns," says Steve Angelucci of the media and marketing handler Host Communications. "Certainly in the the millions and millions - high millions."
Nonetheless, NCAA officials say the decision to allow the limited number of ads is not about the money.
Before the 11-year deal was negotiated with CBS in 1999, then-NCAA President Cedric Dempsey says he and members of the association's Division I men's basketball committee discussed whether to keep alcohol in the advertising mix. They ultimately reasoned that a vast majority of member schools had made their positions clear, permitting the ads on their own radio and TV broadcasts, and that an NCAA ban would be "contradictory," he says.
"The general feeling at that stage was that it might be more beneficial to try a 'responsible drinking' approach rather than totally eliminating them," Dempsey says.
The university presidents and chancellors who sit on the top-level Executive Committee largely maintained that position in August, disappointing critics who charge that the association talks a better game than it actually plays.
All told, there were an average of 2.5 alcohol TV ads per college football game and 2.6 per college basketball contest in 2003, the most recent year for which such figures are available, according to Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Pro basketball had more (4.5). Pro football had virtually the same number (2.5).
The alcohol industry's spending on college sports-related TV advertising that year: $52.2 million, accounting for about 4.5% of all television advertising tied to those sports. That figure climbed to $66.2 million in 2004.
What individual schools do during the regular season is up to them. In part because some schools play in city-owned facilities and thus can't dictate policy, and in part because bans on local sales and advertising could constitute illegal restraint of trade, the NCAA hasn't imposed across-the-board restrictions.
The NCAA controls its championships, however, and there it bars both sales and on-site ads. It limits broadcast advertising to beer and other malt beverages and wine products, permitting no more than 60 seconds per hour and two minute per overall broadcast. And it lays out guidelines for game programs.
Beth DeRicco of the Department of Education-supported Higher Education Center, which offers consulting and research on alcohol and other drug abuse, says, "It's up to the organization to kind of come up with a middle-ground approach that everybody can agree to. That's a hard job. Would it be helpful if they banned alcohol? Would it send a certain type of message? Of course, it would. But that might not be the most judicious tack for them to take."
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