Citizen Staff and Wire Reports
For the alcohol industry, the NCAA Tournament means a chance to spend millions advertising to a national TV audience. While opponents aim to severe those ties, UA hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon.
Staff and Wire Report
WASHINGTON – For millions of sports fans, “March Madness,” means the long-awaited start of the NCAA basketball tournament, particularly in Tucson where the University of Arizona Wildcats is the city’s top sports attraction.
For the alcohol industry, the games mean a chance to spend millions advertising to a national television audience. That marketing strategy uses the nation’s top collegiate athletes to sell beer, even though many of those athletes are underage and it’s illegal for them to drink it.
Beer advertisements on college sports broadcasts are nothing new. But new questions are being raised about the willingness of schools to accept millions from the industry amid mounting evidence that beer and college students are a dangerous mix.
Alcohol-fueled incidents are the leading cause of campus crime and health problems, and they sometimes result in death.
“We don’t see how colleges teaming with beer advertisers is in the best interests of students,” said George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The center is asking 1,200 colleges and universities to sign what it calls The College Commitment, a pledge to eliminate alcohol-related television ads during sports events. The pledge applies to all levels of college sports, from local games to championship contests such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament and national football bowls.
As of March 9, the group’s Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports television had signed up 105 schools, including three in the Big 10 Conference – Ohio State University, Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota.
But not UA.
UA President Peter Likins says he can’t, even though there is a rule that prohibits alcoholic beverages on the campus, because of ties with the Pacific-10 Conference.
“I cannot, as president of the University of Arizona, commit unilaterally to the imposition of advertising controls on televised games in which this university participates. Unless some mechanism for simultaneous and collective action can be devised, I must stand aside,” Likins said in a written statement.
However, Likins adds “personally I’d be please to support stronger controls by the NCAA on alcoholic beverage advertising during the NCAA Basketball Championships.”
Beer industry officials deny their advertising targets underage drinkers and say there’s no evidence that advertising encourages drinking among college students. They note that 87 percent of people who watch college basketball are 21 or older and that 57 percent of undergraduates are at least 21.
“I think it’s ethical and good business, we want to be where our customers are,” said John Kaestner, vice president of consumer affairs for Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.
The industry spent about $58 million in 2002 on commercials televised during college sports programs, according to The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University in Washington. That equaled about 10 percent of the industry’s total television sports spending that year.
NCAA leads the way
NCAA Tournament games led all other sports events in alcohol-related advertising on television in 2002, with 939 ads costing $28 million. That compares with a combined 925 ads aired during the Super Bowl, World Series, college bowl games and the NFL’s Monday Night Football.
The $33 million that the industry spent on television ads at NCAA games and football bowl games in 2002 accounted for more than 57 percent of the money the industry spent on television ads at all college sports events that year.
Jeff Howard, a spokesman for the NCAA, denied that letting beer companies advertise during games sends a mixed message.
“We don’t feel it’s inconsistent with our mission,” he said.
Many schools are so strapped for cash that they welcome the beer industry’s money.
“Anheuser-Busch is our No. 1 corporate client when it comes to cash,” said Mario Moccia, associate athletic director at the University of Missouri. “We are proud of our affiliation. We have to deal with real-world revenue issues.”
Schools that have signed on to the no-beer-ads campaign take a different view.
“That’s just not the image I want to convey,” Rob Fournier, athletic director at Wayne State University in Detroit, said of the ads. “For years, I have brought in people to talk to my athletes about alcohol abuse. It just seems contradictory to me to take money from the beer industry.”
Two sports legends – retired Hall of Fame college basketball coach Dean Smith and GOP Rep. Tom Osborne, formerly the head football coach at the University of Nebraska – are putting their celebrity status to work for the campaign by making speeches urging schools to join.
College and university policies on alcohol advertising vary. The NCAA restricts beer and wine ads to 14 percent of total advertising content or 60 seconds per hour of television time. The organization does not allow ads for hard liquor.
There are no specific restrictions on alcohol ads during the annual college football bowl games, said Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, who coordinates the bowl series.
At the local level, schools set their own policies on alcohol advertising. But a school that declines to accept beer advertising money during locally broadcast games often finds it doesn’t have that option when it plays in a conference or tournament that allows the ads.
Some schools face special problems in trying to reduce students’ exposure to alcohol. The University of Miami Hurricanes, for example, play in a city-owned stadium that allows beer sales.
Catherine Bath, program director for Security on Campus Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa., said schools can no longer afford to take money from beer producers. Her group is dedicated to making colleges safer.
Bath’s 20-year-old son, Raheem Bath, died five years ago as a result of binge drinking while a junior at Duke University.
Nationally, about 1,400 college and university students die and about 500,000 are injured each year from alcohol-related causes, according to studies. Another 600,000 students each year are assaulted by classmates who have been drinking. No numbers from UA were available.
The number of beer ads aired during college sports games bucks the trend in alcohol ads displayed on campuses.
Although most colleges and universities still allow beer ads during college sports broadcasts, 72 percent bar alcohol advertising on their campuses, according to a September report on underage drinking by the National Academy of Sciences.
Reactions vary at UA.
“I think the ads definitely do influence students to drink,” said senior Higashi Kato.
“No, I don’t think ads influence students to drink. Students are going to drink whether there are ads or not,” said Anita Coronado, a senior Spanish major. “Students are more influenced by peer pressure than TV ads.”
“Students are not particularly influenced by alcohol ads. I doubt they have any influence,” said Nicola Stuttard, a senior.
UA football player Danny Baugher, also doesn’t believe the ads encourage students to drink.
About banning alcohol ads from televised college sporting events, the students were split.
“I see their point,” Coronado said, “but I don’t think it would make any difference.”
“It’s not a good idea. The ads bring in money,” Stuttard said.
Kato and Baugher disagree.
“I think it is a very good idea to ban alcohol ads from college sports on TV,” Kato said.
“It would be a good idea,” Baugher said. “It would make sense to ban the ads since most students are under the legal drinking age.”
Staff writer TJ Buck contributed to this article.
REASONS TO FROTH OVER STUDENT DRINKING
WASHINGTON – Excessive drinking on college and university campuses has serious consequences for nondrinkers as well, according to numerous studies. No numbers from the University of Arizona are available.
The studies show that:
• 1,400 college students die every year in alcohol-related incidents.
• More than 600,000 college students are assaulted each year by other students who have been drinking.
• More than 500,000 college students are injured each year in alcohol-related accidents.
• There were 30,517 campus arrests for liquor law violations in 2002.
• About 5 percent of college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of drinking.
• More than 70,000 students annually are victims of date rape or sexual assault in incidents where alcohol is a factor.
• 2 of 5 college students are binge drinkers.
• About 2.1 million students between 18 and 24 drive while intoxicated.
• More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem each year.
• Underage drinking costs the country $53 billion annually.
Sources: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, Security on Campus Inc.
PHOTO CREDIT: Citizen file photo
(man, in shadow, drinking)
MUGS: XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen