Campaign targets TV alcohol ads

Bridget Thoreson

Alcohol might no longer be advertised during college sporting events if Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) gets his way.

Osborne is sponsoring a campaign to end alcohol advertising during television broadcasts of college sports games. He is collaborating with Dean Smith, a former basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, which began last month, is focused on getting university officials to sign a pledge called the College Commitment, in which they would promise to work within their athletic conferences and the NCAA to end alcohol ads on TV.

Osborne has been advertising the cause, and so far it has raised awareness on the subject, according to Erin Hegge, spokeswoman for Osborne.

“College campuses are really trying to curb the problem of underage drinking on campus, but when they’re taking money from the manufacturers they are doing so at the expense of the students,” Hegge said.

Alcohol advertising is prevalent at college events, according to Hegge.

In 2002, beer manufacturers spent $27 million on television advertising during the NCAA basketball tournament, which had more alcohol ads than the Superbowl, the World Series, and Monday Night Football combined, she said.

The response from beer manufacturers to the campaign has been limited, according to Hegge.

“I am not aware of any direct response from the alcohol industry to our office,” Hegge said. “When Congressman Osborne, Dean Smith and the CSPI kicked off this campaign the Beer Institute made a statement that day. Basically, they didn’t think that there was enough evidence to support the claim.”

Although they haven’t signed up with Osborne’s campaign, Ohio State University will stop running alcohol advertisements next year.

“We’re stopping alcohol advertisements on what we can control, so the radio, the coaches’ TV shows, and the game programs,” said David Brown, director of marketing and promotions at Ohio State’s athletic department. “It came from our athletic director (Andy Geiger), and he feels passionately that it’s not very responsible for the universities to advertise and be responsible to alcohol companies.”

As far as eliminating television advertisements, Ohio State has to work with the Big Ten conference.

Television rights and commercial options are managed by the conference, according to Mark Rudner, associate commissioner for the Big Ten conference. Ohio State officials can make recommendations to be discussed at the conference’s next negotiations.

The current contract will be renegotiated for the 2006-7 season, Rudner said.

Ohio State is not the first college to take action against the alcohol commercials. Michigan State University has not allowed alcohol advertisements during their radio broadcasts for some time.

At Marquette, alcohol advertising within the university’s control is not directed at students, according to officials.

“We do have some sort of sponsorship with Miller brands,” said Ben Tracy, director of university communication. “Any of the stuff we do in terms of working with Miller — none of that is aimed at the students.”

“We really don’t have any control over what the advertising is during our games,” Tracy said

He said the ads shown during the television broadcasts of Marquette games are not chosen by the school but by the networks.

As far as lobbying Conference USA to stop running the ads, Tracy said Marquette isn’t considering it.

“At this point we don’t see any issue with” needing to sign on to Osbourne’s campaign, he said.