Full-page ads in college newspapers Friday call on university leaders, athletic conferences and the NCAA to “stop the madness” by banning alcohol marketing from college sports.
The ads, tied to March Madness and sponsored by the American Medical Association, were scheduled to run in college papers in six cities, in advance of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The low-budget campaign placed $17,000 worth of ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education and student newspapers at Georgia Tech, University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of Mississippi and DePaul University.
“The truly insane thing about March basketball is all the money universities get from alcohol advertising,” the ad reads. An illustration shows cheering sports fans holding signs reading: “STOP THE MADNESS.”
The ad claims that the alcohol industry spent more than $52 million to advertise its products during televised college sports in a recent year.
Spokesman Bob Williams said the NCAA limits alcohol ads to one minute per hour of broadcast, won’t allow ads for hard liquor and encourages “responsibility themes and messages” in the ads.
The beer industry maintains the NCAA tournament draws a largely adult TV audience, citing Nielsen Media Research figures showing that 89 percent of viewers of last year’s tournament were adults, with a median age of 48.
“Sports fans tend to be beer drinkers and therefore we’re going to try to advertise to that audience,” said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, a trade association.
Becker said the industry contributes money to campus programs that fight underage drinking, and banning beer ads from games would do nothing to solve that problem.
College policies vary. Chicago’s DePaul University accepts no money from alcohol manufacturers and gets no money from beer sales at Allstate Arena, where the Blue Demons play, said university spokesman John Holden.
Allstate Arena is not on the DePaul campus.
The University of Wisconsin receives $425,000 per year from Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. in exchange for alcohol advertising in game programs, regional sports broadcasts and interview programs with its coaches, said Casey Nagy, executive assistant to UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley.
“Wisconsin has a heritage associated with beer drinking,” Nagy said. “We haven’t had a lot of community sentiment that we should discontinue the alcohol partnerships we have.”
Wisconsin, however, took part in the decision to prohibit beer and alcohol ads from the Big Ten Channel, a new national sports TV network, Nagy said. “It’s a step,” he said.
The American Medical Association’s fight against alcohol ads during NCAA games isn’t new.
In 2002, the doctors’ group criticized ads funded by Anheuser-Busch featuring college team mascots, and in 2005, the group sent a letter to NCAA Division I board members requesting a ban on alcohol print and broadcast ads linked to sports events.
The AMA maintains that alcohol ads undermine efforts to prevent campus binge drinking and alcohol-related deaths, accidents and sexual assaults, said Richard Yoast, director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse for the American Medical Association in Chicago.
“Almost every college president would agree that heavy drinking is their major student health problem,” Yoast said.
Yoast applauded schools that have written sports broadcast contracts to exclude alcohol advertising. “The whole thing revolves around money,” Yoast said.
Yoast acknowledged an error in the AMA’s ad. The ad claims that alcohol industry spending of $52 million on college sports advertising in 2003 was “more than twice the amount spent on non-college programming.” Yoast said the ad should read “more than twice the percentage spent on non-college programming.”
He said the mistake was inadvertent and “doesn’t change the problem.”