The University of Iowa and Anheuser-Busch have renewed their relationship, a move some say conflicts with the university’s high-profile responsible-drinking campaign.
A new four-year agreement approved this month by the U of I athletic department allows Anheuser-Busch to place Iowa’s Tigerhawk logo on retail displays such as posters and flags, and promotional giveaways like cups, caps and T-shirts.
The Tigerhawk may appear alongside Anheuser-Busch beer logos like Budweiser, Busch, Michelob and Natural Light. All the items the logo will appear on, however, require athletic department approval, and must include the message “Responsibility Matters.”
The new deal highlights the ongoing conflict between the multibillion-dollar business of U.S. college athletics and the academic mission of universities and their efforts to curb students’ overconsumption of alcohol.
Jeffrey Cox, a history professor on the U of I President’s Committee on Athletics, said it’s hypocritical for the university to spend money to curb drinking and arrest students for alcohol violations while also accepting money from beer companies.
“I’ve said that repeatedly, and I’ll say it again. But it hasn’t really changed anybody’s minds,” he said.
The agreement is part of a larger one with Learfield Communications, a multimedia company in Missouri, that will pay the U of I athletics department $114 million through 2026. Learfield paid the university at least $5.8 million this year for radio and TV broadcast rights, coaches’ shows, the Hawkeye Sports website and corporate sponsorships, according to Learfield’s contract with the university.
All proceeds from the beer deal will fund the university’s alcohol harm reduction plan, launched in 2010 to reduce binge drinking, said Sally Mason, president of the U of I, the state’s largest university with an enrollment of nearly 31,000.
Mason declined to say how much money the university will receive, and referred questions to Learfield. Officials with Learfield declined to reveal financial information regarding its contract Anheuser-Busch.
While the sponsorship complies with NCAA advertising standards that require a “drink responsibly” message, the agreement stands out among U of I’s peers.
Seven Big Ten Conference schools reached Thursday by The Des Moines Register said they had no sponsorships with companies that sell alcohol: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue. An eighth school, Illinois, said its only sponsorship with an alcohol company is the annual “Busch Braggin’ Rights” men’s basketball game against the University of Missouri. Indiana University, Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin could not be reached.
Iowa State University, however, has had an agreement for several years with Anheuser-Busch that is similar to the one with U of I. It also requires any advertising to feature a “drink responsibly” message, an ISU official said.
The U of I has a history of closely guarding its trademarks, and their uses have made headlines when they appear on controversial items. In 2009, Iowa joined more than a dozen universities in pressuring Anheuser-Busch to stop the sale of Bud Light “fan cans” decorated with school colors. The universities said the cans infringed on trademarks and undermined campaigns to reduce dangerous drinking.
“We are not pleased,” a U of I spokesman said two years ago of the colorful Bud Light cans, which proved hot sellers in college towns like Iowa City and Ames before being discontinued.
The latest multiyear deal with Anheuser-Busch replaces a three-year sponsorship agreement that expired this year, said Rick Klatt, U of I athletics department associate marketing director.
Some details in the beer deal that remain unchanged include radio advertisements and guest entertainment at home games for football, basketball, wrestling and at the U of I Finkbine golf course, officials said.
Alcohol consumption is prohibited on campus, with a few exceptions. Drinking is allowed in club space at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, at skyboxes at Kinnick Stadium and in certain university-owned parking areas on Saturday football game days.
Financial details and copies of the sponsorship agreement are not available because officials at the taxpayer-funded university contend the contract is not a public record.
Though the university approved the sponsorship and receives a financial benefit from such deals, the contract is between Anheuser-Busch and Hawkeye Sports Properties. Hawkeye Sports is property of Learfield, which handles marketing for more than 50 colleges, universities and athletic conferences. Among its clients are the University of Northern Iowa and ISU.
The Learfield contract drew public scrutiny last year when the company sold the naming rights of the basketball court to Mediacom. The company and the athletic department declined to discuss specifics of the deal. They argued the information is proprietary financial information that, if divulged, could harm the company.
In April, the Register reported that Iowa Farm Bureau obtained exclusive use of the popular America Needs Farmers trademark from the U of I for $250, the minimum amount charged by the school for promotional licensing deals.
When asked to explain why the U of I charged only $250 for five years’ worth of exclusive rights, university athletics officials said the deal was done in conjunction with a private sponsorship agreement between Farm Bureau and Learfield — a deal from which the taxpayer-funded university received a financial benefit.
University officials disagree on whether the Anheuser-Busch sponsorship conflicts with the university’s efforts to curb binge drinking.
Mason defended the deal Thursday, which she said athletic director Gary Barta discussed with her prior to its approval.
“The requirement that the possible use of the Tigerhawk logo be accompanied by the phrase ‘Responsibility Matters’ is consistent with our alcohol harm reduction initiative. The university will continue to emphasize that students and fans should consume alcohol only in a legal, safe and responsible manner,” Mason said in a statement.
The anti-binge drinking initiative calls for an increase in students taking classes on Friday, parental interventions, education on house parties and alternative activities at football games.
Members of a committee charged with advising the athletics department on various issues first learned of the new sponsorship deal Thursday from The Des Moines Register, said Bill Hines, a law professor who heads the President’s Committee on Athletics.
Hines said it’s unclear to him whether a beer corporation’s “Responsibility Matters” advertising campaign will help or hurt the university’s efforts to encourage responsible alcohol use. He said he is seeking opinions from others on the committee, which has 17 voting members.
One of those members, Michael O’Hara, a psychology professor, said the university must show care in how the Tigerhawk mascot image is used, given that community’s struggle to combat binge and underage drinking.
“I believe that participating in a corporate campaign whose ultimate aim is to increase beer sales to persons who have a positive regard for university athletics (students, fans, alums) is probably a poor idea and one that undermines our efforts to encourage the responsible use of alcohol,” he said in an email.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football