Federal Trade Commission Urged to Investigate Beer and Liquor Sponsorship of NASCAR

CSPI Says Logos on Cars, at Tracks—-Even on Toys—-Confuse Young Kids About Drinking and Driving

When it conducts its upcoming review of the alcohol industry’s advertising and marketing practices and the industry’s self-regulation systems, the Federal Trade Commission should examine the burgeoning alcohol sponsorship relationships with Nascar, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Along with a detailed letter highlighting both the sponsorship deals and Nascar’s simultaneous efforts to attract more kids to its audience, CSPI sent FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras a little present that illustrates the problem: A Matchbox-type toy car emblazoned with logos for Miller Lite beer. Other toy cars licensed by Nascar bear Budweiser, Coors Light, Crown Royal, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniels logos.

"Linking drinking with high-speed driving—in front of audiences that include millions of young people—is asking for trouble," said CSPI alcohol policies director George A. Hacker. "A self-regulatory system that allows beer logos on toys and liquor signage at supposedly 'family' events is not a system worth keeping. Young people—-especially those under 12 years old—lack the social and intellectual sophistication to understand fully that alcohol and driving are a potentially lethal mixture. Alcohol marketers and Nascar deserve the black flag."

Nascar has five alcoholic-beverage "premier" sponsors, making alcoholic beverages the largest Nascar sponsor category among all other consumer goods sponsors.

According to Nascar, 58 percent of 2-to-11 year-olds and 50 percent of 12-to-17 year-olds are Nascar fans, and Nascar is the second most popular televised sport among 7-to-11 year-olds, behind NFL football. Yet Nascar counts Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, Diageo/Crown Royal, Jack Daniels, and Jim Beam among its sponsors. Anheuser-Busch and Crown Royal are each name sponsors of various racing events, and liquor-brand sponsorship is expanding rapidly. All of those companies are likely to have logos on cars, signage on tracks, or ads on Nascar telecasts.

"We talk about it as the fabric of the game," said Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch’s director of sports marketing, in surprisingly candid remarks to Sports Business Journal in May. "When your signs are part of the playing field, you can’t avoid that."

Among other strategies to lure young people to its brand, Nascar has been aggressively building its audience of young people by actively encouraging Hollywood to develop racing-themed movies such as Herbie Fully Loaded, starring 19-year-old Lindsey Lohan, and the forthcoming Talladega Nights, starring Will Ferrell. It premiered the G-rated cartoon film, Cars, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and plans a Nascar-related morning cartoon for children’s television. At least with the toy cars bearing beer logos, Nascar realizes it may have a problem: The boxes' fine print indicates the toy "is intended for adults of legal drinking age," though elsewhere, in a warning about choking, it says it is not intended for children under 3.

"The Federal Trade Commission should take a hard look at how alcohol marketers are using Nascar to appeal to young people," said Hacker. "Car races are a strange place for kids to learn about alcohol, drinking, and driving."

CSPI leads a coalition called the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, which has been waging a campaign to get beer ads off college basketball and other sports programming.