Advocacy group asks to keep alcohol ads out of college sports

The alcohol industry spent $58 million on 6,251 advertisements during college sports broadcasts in 2002.

Paula Haynes

A health advocacy group is asking universities to keep alcohol advertising off the air during college sports broadcasts.

The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest launched a campaign last week aimed at curbing alcohol advertising.

Jay Hedlund, spokesman for the center, said it is hypocritical for schools to allow the advertising, which can fuel alcohol misuse.

“It’s very hard on the one hand to warn students about the risks of underage or excessive drinking and on the other hand profit financially from the beer companies,” Hedlund said.

According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, the alcohol industry spent $58 million on 6,251 advertisements during college sports broadcasts in 2002.

University athletics and health officials said they have not been contacted by the center but said alcohol advertising is an important issue that should be reviewed.

“Alcohol advertising gives the impression that everyone is drinking in all events,” said Dave Golden, director of public health and marketing at Boynton Health Service. He said he would support a ban on alcohol advertising during college athletic events.

When the University signs broadcast contracts directly with stations, it does not allow alcohol advertising. However, many broadcasts are coordinated through the Big Ten or the NCAA, which set their own standards, said Mark Coyle, assistant director of intercollegiate athletics.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the University has limited control over these regional or national broadcast contracts.

“I am one of 11 votes,” Maturi said of the Big Ten contract, which applies to all 11 Big Ten universities.

Maturi said while a ban on alcohol advertising might be right for one university, it might not be right for other schools. Maturi said he personally does not oppose alcohol advertising during games.

“If it’s legal to advertise it and the audience is of age, I’m not opposed to it being advertised,” he said.

Howard Liszt, University senior fellow of journalism and mass communications and former CEO of the Cambell Mithun advertising agency, said he does not think alcohol advertising during college events is wrong if most of the audience is of legal drinking age.

University health officials, however, said alcohol advertising can harm viewers.

“I think advertisers in the alcohol industry do not always have health as one of their goals,” said Dana Farley, a Boynton associate program director who designs alcohol awareness ads.

He said many young people watch college sports on television. If the University signed the center’s pledge to ban alcohol advertising it could help reduce adolescent drinking, he said.

But television advertisements are only a small part of the problem, said Traci Toomey, an epidemiology professor who researches alcohol misuse.

“I think that saying there is one magic pill and then our work is done is naive,” she said.

Toomey said factors such as the number of bars near a campus and other types of advertising are equally if not more dangerous than television ads.