NCAA Recruiting Young Audience for Beer Ads

CSPI Says Alcohol Advertising Incompatible with Outreach Efforts that Target Kids as Young as 6


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is actively building brand loyalty among young people in order to get them interested in sports and to boost the attractiveness of NCAA telecasts to advertisers. But those recruitment efforts may deliver more and more young viewers to Anheuser-Busch and other beer marketers which advertise heavily on college sports. In a report released today, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has been waging a Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, said the NCAA’s otherwise-admirable youth outreach efforts should continue, but the beer ads on its telecasts should not.

“The NCAA can play a positive role in society by getting kids interested in athletics and physical activity, and by getting kids excited at the prospect of continuing their education at a college or university,” said CSPI alcohol policies project director George A. Hacker. “But beer advertising is totally inconsistent with those youth recruitment efforts. We’re all for the NCAA expanding interest in its brand. But it shouldn’t be serving up potential underage drinkers to Anheuser-Busch and other brewers.”

The NCAA executive committee will consider the issue of alcohol advertising at its meeting in Indianapolis on August 4. Current NCAA policy purports to exclude those ads that “do not appear to be in the best interests of higher education.” The policy prohibits alcohol ads but makes a specific exemption for beer.

“What kind of crazy policy would promote beer drinking to young NCAA fans, among others, when drinking problems—violence, unwanted and unprotected sex, alcohol poisoning, school dropouts, and property damage—are the most pressing issues on college campuses?” asked Hacker. “You don’t need a college degree to understand that hawking beer to young fans is not in the best interests of higher education.” (over)

Each year, 500,000 students suffer alcohol-related injuries, including 70,000 students who are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 1,400 college students die each year in alcohol-related deaths.

In 2003, beer advertisers spent $52.2 million on televised college sports. Bud Light led the way with $11.4 million, followed by Miller Lite, Budweiser, and Coors Light. That year the NCAA tournament concentrated $21.1 million in beer ads into three weeks of games watched by more than 6 million children and teens.

“While beer advertisers claim that they’re targeting only consumers of legal drinking age, the NCAA is reaching out aggressively to widen its audience of teens,” Hacker said. “Some of its programs are designed to attract kids as young as six. Again, we’d have no problem with those programs, if only they weren’t drawing millions of children and teens to clever and seductive enticements to drink beer.”

CSPI’s Campaign for Alcohol Free Sports TV has aligned some 228 NCAA-member schools against the current policy. One of the coaches who leads the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV is Dean Smith, who coached the University of North Carolina men’s basketball teams from 1961 to 1997, including two NCAA championship teams. “We need to understand that children start following athletics at the age of nine or ten,” Smith said. “These beer ads are highly appealing to them. When beer companies say their ads aren’t directed at young people, I find it hard to believe.”

The NCAA runs at least 10 different youth recruitment programs at the national level, including a kid-friendly web site with games; an all-ages fan festival called Hoop City; a take-a-kid-to-a-game program, and a cartoonish mascot named J.J. Jumper. The NCAA promotes sportsmanship through contests and classroom materials, and runs various education and mentoring programs geared to young people.

CSPI had previously raised concerns about the NCAA’s coziness with Anheuser-Busch, notably several large donations the brewer gave in the 1990s, and the hiring of a former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive to oversee the NCAA’s educational programs. CSPI said that when the NCAA executive committee’s review of alcohol policy is conducted in August, it should reflect the values of its member schools.

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