The Advantages and Disadvantages of Alcohol Sponsorship in Sport

As I talked about in a recent post, when people go to a sporting event, they don’t want overpriced water or sticky soda. A lot of them drink beer. It tastes great with a hot dog and a soft pretzel, after all.

Being such a major concession, alcohol sponsorship in sport goes together like peanut butter and jelly. What are the pros and cons of pursuing this type of sponsorship?

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of alcohol sponsorship in sport:

  • You’re appealing to a major segment of your target audience
  • Yet for those under 21, alcohol sponsorship isn’t an option
  • Alcohol sponsorship is on the rise
  • If you have a kid-friendly image, alcohol sponsorship doesn’t fit
  • Alcohol sponsorship can be very profitable
  • Some worry that sponsorships glorify alcohol
  • You have many target sponsors to pursue
  • Many are big names and might not be receptive to smaller sports orgs

In this article, I’ll go through the above advantages and disadvantages of alcohol sponsorship in sport to help your sports team or organization determine if this avenue is worth pursuing. You won’t want to miss it.

The Pros of Alcohol Sponsorship in Sport

I like to start with the good stuff, so without further ado, here are four advantages to pursuing an alcohol sponsorship in sport.

You’re Appealing to a Major Segment of Your Target Audience

It’s not just in sports; alcohol is prevalent everywhere.

Verywell Mind mentions a study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health or NSDUH from 2016 that involved 270,000 people. In that survey, up to 50.7 percent of the respondents had consumed alcohol within the last month.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism through the National Institutes of Health or NIH quotes a more current NSDUH study from 2019. Most of the respondents (89.6 percent) said they had consumed alcohol at least once.

A group of 69.5 percent stated that they had had alcohol within the last year. Up to 54.9 percent of respondents said they’d had alcohol in the last month.

That’s an increase of 4.2 percent from 2016 to 2019 of those who drank alcohol at least within the last 30 days.

Of course, in the latest NSDUH survey, the participants were all over the age of 18 years old, FYI. That shows there’s a good number of adults who partake in alcohol consumption regularly or semi-regularly.

Now how many of them are sports fans?

Statista, in data from 2019, breaks down the ages of sports viewership around the world. This viewership isn’t for any specific sport, keep in mind, and thus might not be reflective of the demographics for your own sports team or organization.

According to Statista, the largest group of sports fans is those between 36 and 49 years old followed by those ages 50 to 64, then 26 to 35, then 65+, then 18 to 25.

Let’s look at the biggest sports demographic from that data: 36 to 49 years old. At that age, you’re well past the legal drinking age, and you’re mature enough that you don’t have to worry about getting carded (well, usually).

You typically have a good chunk of disposable income, so you won’t mind buying beer or other alcohol at a sports game, even if it isn’t cheap.

That’s a huge audience segment to tap into!

The second largest audience segment, adults 50 to 64, might be past their wild partying days, but they probably don’t mind having a beer or two at a sporting event.

Selling beer to those 26 to 35 years old is like stealing candy from a baby. They’re of course going to be very receptive.

Alcohol Sponsorship is on the Rise

If you’ve noticed more and more sports stars and teams pairing up with alcohol brands, that’s because alcohol sponsorship in sport is becoming increasingly more popular. I’d say it won’t be soon before insurance companies and alcohol companies have to start competing for sport sponsorship spots since both industries have edged in on sports.

Here are some examples of high-profile alcohol brand/sports player sponsorships between 2020 and 2021. When Lionel Messi achieved his huge soccer milestone of scoring the most goals for his soccer club than any soccer player ever, Budweiser had to get involved.

They decided to send numbered bottles of beers to every goalkeeper that Messi scored on. Pretty creative, huh? And no, this didn’t offend the goalkeepers; just the opposite. Many took videos with their beers, talking about Messi’s skills.

Beer giant Heineken decided to team up with Formula One superstar Nico Rosberg to promote their new alcohol-free Heineken 0.0 drink. The deal also served as a message about safe driving.

For Cinco de Mayo 2020, UFC superstar Dominick Cruz worked with alcohol brand Modelo to donate money to first responders fighting against COVID-19. The campaign was hugely successful.

Those are just a handful of examples of many that prove how alcohol sponsorship in sports is becoming increasingly more prevalent. Now is the ideal time for your sports team or organization to pursue this area of sponsorship!

Alcohol Sponsorship Can Be Very Profitable

If there’s one industry to pay attention to in the early 2020s, the alcohol industry would be it. According to a 2021 article from business resource Marker, the annual revenue for alcohol distillers in the United States went up 7.7 percent in 2020 alone.

Alcohol retailers had purchased only $29 billion of booze in 2019, but in 2020, it was $31.2 billion. That’s not only a marked increase from the year prior, but higher than in four decades past, says the Distilled Spirits Council.

Yes, sure, part of that uptick was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If anything though, that goes to show that when we’re in a time when people can’t go out to eat, can’t go to a bar, can’t see a movie, and can’t even visit with friends or family that alcohol is still important to the average person.

The potential for profit is there. A deep-pocketed sponsor is always an appealing one, especially for smaller sports teams or sports organizations lacking the funding for gear, transportation, and lodging.

You Have Many Target Sponsors to Pursue

The list of alcohol brands your sports organization can pursue is massive. I’ve touched on a few of them already, but those were mostly beer brands. Here are some other alcohol companies outside of those that sell beer:

  • Bacardi
  • Smirnoff
  • Hennessy
  • Johnnie Walker
  • Jack Daniel’s
  • Jim Beam
  • Finlandia
  • Ciroc
  • Crown Royal
  • Baileys
  • Captain Morgan
  • Jameson
  • SKYY
  • Grey Goose
  • Jagermeister
  • Fireball
  • Jose Cuervo
  • Patron

You could even look into local breweries and distilleries for sponsorship opportunities. The pool is nearly an endless one, giving you lots of different avenues to pursue.

The Cons of Alcohol Sponsorship in Sport

As profitable and popular as alcohol sponsorship in sports can be, you must also consider the following downsides.

If Your Audience is an Under 21 Crowd, Alcohol Sponsorship Isn’t an Option

Young people can’t get enough of sports. When they go to a game, they can buy everything from foam fingers to soft pretzels and hot dogs. One concession they cannot purchase is alcohol, well, at least not until their 21st birthday.

Going way back to that Statista chart from the last section, as of 2019, the smallest share of sports fans was the 18 to 25 crowd. That group includes adolescents entering adulthood who can’t yet drink alcohol as well as young adults who can.

Yet as I said, young people can’t get enough of sports. After doing an audience survey to determine your own demographics, you might find that your audience skews younger than what the Statista data shows.

Well, that’s no good. After all, kids who are younger than 21 can’t legally buy alcohol, as I’ve already established. If you tried to push through and pursue sponsorship with an alcohol company anyway, once they took one look at your audience data and realized who your target audience is, they would turn you down for a sponsorship arrangement.

As I always say on the blog, sponsorship is not just about what a sponsor can do for you, but what you can do for them as well. If your target audience is ripe for the sponsor’s picking, they’re going to be more interested in working with you.

In your situation, they’ll realize as well as you will that advertising alcohol to adolescents who can’t buy it is as effective as advertising McDonald’s to Gandhi. The target audience just isn’t there so the message is lost.

Alcohol Sponsorship Doesn’t Fit a Kid-Friendly Image

Another thing you have to do before deciding if alcohol sponsorship is right for your sports team or organization is to determine how kid-friendly you are.

If yours is a small-league team, most of them are very community-based. You probably have a mascot and do kids’ face-painting and other family-centric activities before the games to bring the community together, right?

How alien would it be if your usual crowd shows up and sees beer logos plastered on the sports arena or discovers that it’s now the Jose Cuervo Park? It’s probably going to be off-putting.

If you have a handful of other small sponsors and they too run the gamut, then an alcohol sponsorship might not stick out like a sore thumb. If most of your sports game attendees though are kids with their parents, it’s not a good look.

It’s important to know the sponsor you’re working with as well as their values. Just as a vegan company wouldn’t choose a burger brand to sponsor them, a kids-friendly sports team might want to reconsider being sponsored by an alcohol brand.

Some Worry That Alcohol Sponsorship Glorifies Alcohol

I found this interesting article from Reuters from way back in 2009 that talked about alcohol sponsorship in sport. The article mentions that medical experts and campaigners were calling for a ban on alcohol sponsorships.

The writer also says that in the UK, tobacco brands were outlawed from sponsoring sports events, which does bear credence to the idea that the same could happen for alcohol sponsorships. However, I have to again remind you that this article is from 2009, so it’s ancient by today’s standards.

Since that Reuters article was published, 12 years have passed and nothing has changed in the world of alcohol sponsorships, both in the UK and abroad in the US. Could it be that the profit margin is higher, so the other cheek was turned? Maybe.

I can understand both sides of the coin here. On one side, sports attract impressionable young adults. If these adults are of legal age and they’re being encouraged to drink, things can get out of hand.

Alcohol sponsorships can also, to some extent, be perceived as glorifying alcohol. Alcohol can and does ruin lives, causing some to spiral into addiction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA states that, in 2019, up to 10,142 fatal drunk driving accidents occurred.

Yet on the other side, you have to trust that the alcohol company you’re working with knows how to promote themselves in a responsible way. That doesn’t mean that partnering with an alcohol company for sponsorship is a good idea if your target audience is underaged, but it does mean you can feel good about the decision if your main audience is an older group.

Many Alcohol Sponsors Are Big Names That Might Not Be Receptive to Small Sports Orgs

The last point I want to make is this. Alcohol sponsorships have been and will continue to be a lucrative opportunity for sports organizations and teams to pursue. Still, you have to choose the companies you work with carefully.

For non-alcohol sports sponsorship, I would never suggest that a small sports organization go after the Nikes or the Coca-Colas of the world because those companies are too big. They get hundreds of sponsorship requests, probably per day, and will ignore most of them.

It would take a superstar sponsorship program to get on these companies’ radars, and you’re not quite there yet. That’s okay. You will get there someday, but maybe not for your first sports sponsorship.

As I suggested earlier, start local. Look for breweries and distilleries around you. Distilleries just had a banner sales year in 2020. Maybe part of that was because of the pandemic, but now that people have found distilleries, their interest could remain.

Conclusion

Alcohol sponsorship in sport can be incredibly advantageous, but not always. If your target audience is under 18 or you have a squeaky-clean image, partnering with an alcohol company could be more detrimental than it is helpful.

I hope the pros and cons outlined today help your sports organization decide whether to pursue alcohol sponsorship!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn