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Are Alcohol Brands the Next Big Partners for Colleges?

College sports and alcohol have long been inextricably linked through tailgating. Lately, however, colleges and universities are growing warmer to the idea of partnerships with alcoholic beverage brands that are slightly closer to home.

 Recently, Yuengling secured naming rights to the University of South Florida’s (USF) Sun Dome, the university’s multi-purpose arena. While details of the 10-year agreement weren’t announced, USF is expected to benefit from an amount in the high six-figures annually.

This move isn’t without precedent. In 2017, the University of Texas announced a partnership with Corona Extra, where it named the imported beer brand an official sponsor of the Texas Longhorns.

The trend of colleges approving alcohol sales to the general public at sporting events is also gaining in popularity. The University of Houston named Bud Light its official beer and made it available for sale during athletic events in 2017. Just over a decade ago, only six universities nationally allowed beer and/or wine to be sold at college football games. That number has increased nearly seven-fold.

Partnerships between alcohol brands and universities can be mutually beneficial for both parties. Each year, college costs skyrocket, so revenue from brand partnerships can serve to provide universities with the additional funds they require. In return, the advertisement from being a large sports-associated college’s “official” alcoholic beverage can provide significant potential revenue for a brand versus advertising elsewhere.

At a time where Millennials and the nearly college-age Gen Z population have yet to embrace beer in the same way as previous generations, beer brands, in particular, may have much to gain from partnering with sports-affiliated colleges. This type of visibility offers an avenue to potentially gain favor with an audience that has baffled the alcohol industry.

The benefits don’t come without significant challenges, however. Many college sports associations are still conflicted about allowing universities the autonomy to engage with alcohol brands. While the NCAA has recently lifted its ban on alcohol sales in college stadiums following its pilot program, the SEC has not.

Furthermore, alcohol beverage brands must consider the public perception of such partnerships. Above all, it will be crucial that brands maintain industry-wide efforts to discourage underage drinking. While the issue of potential partnerships won’t be decided nationally overnight, the recent trend indicates that alcohol brands should explore these opportunities while fully vetting the opportunities and possible difficulties they present.

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The Author

Marbet Lewis

Marbet Lewis

Marbet Lewis has focused her practice on the laws governing the alcohol industry and the manufacture, importation, and sale of alcohol beverage products since 2004. She represents clients in all aspects of alcohol and business licensing in Florida including alcohol licensee mergers and acquisitions, negotiation of asset purchase agreements and required alcohol use provisions, license transfers and licensing due diligence, trade practices, alcohol product advertising and review of marketing agreements, importation agreements, label approvals, and regulatory compliance guidance. Her experience also includes enforcement action defense and administrative litigation, zoning and land use due diligence and approval processes, and state and local government regulatory compliance. She works with domestic and foreign suppliers, wholesalers and a broad range of retailers, including nightclubs, bars, movie theater operators, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, bars, nightclubs, and pharmacy chains.

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