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Regents consider allowing UMN logo on alcohol products

The policy changes would be expected to generate an estimated $300,000 in revenue for the University annually.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Last spring, a group of students from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) approached University Relations with a proposition: They wanted to create a student-manufactured beer with hops patented by the University of Minnesota.

The students were far along in their process; they had worked with the College of Design on a logo for the can, the Carlson School of Management for a business plan and CFANS for the chemistry behind the brew. However, when they approached the University with hopes to partner with a third-party brewer to produce the beer, they were turned down.

Due to policies that prohibit the University from entering licensing and sponsorship agreements with alcoholic beverage companies, the students were not able to partner with the University. The Board of Regents is now considering amending those policies.

There are currently three schools within the Big Ten — the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pennsylvania State University — that prohibit such affiliations.

“What we told that student group was, ‘You know, I’m sorry but we can’t work with you because we have this restriction,’” said Matt Kramer, four-year Vice President of University Relations. “They had a lot of great ideas. And it was not fun to tell them, you know, ‘We can’t help, we literally can’t do this.’”

Due to the rise in craft breweries in Minnesota, a shift towards more responsible messaging around drinking and increased interest from students, the board has discussed and plans to vote on the policy amendments at their February meeting, Kramer said. If passed, the policy changes would allow licensing agreements — putting the University’s “mark” on products — and sponsorship affiliations with alcoholic beverage companies.

Kramer said the University of Minnesota will most likely operate under a “hybrid model,” partnering with a combination of larger, national brands, such as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors, as well as local craft breweries.

Phil Buhlmann, a professor of chemistry at the University and the chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee, said he is excited about the opportunities the policy changes could create for students.

“This is not about the University of Minnesota getting very big into a big business of selling lots of alcohol or something like that. It’s just making it possible to create small opportunities,” Buhlmann said. “I think that it opens possibilities, but it doesn’t mean at the same time everything would be allowed. I think it’s a thoughtful approach.”

Jennifer Brown, a neuroscience Ph.D. student at the University and a representative for the Council of Graduate Students (COGS), said that the revenue was only a minor factor in her support for the amendments. Instead, she said she is excited about the opportunities the policy changes would create for students.

“Because the local brewery scene is such a big part of the draw of Minnesota and so many Minnesota students go on to found their own breweries or work in breweries, I think it could help form partnerships within the University,” Brown said.

Along with the positive feedback, some University members also voiced concerns.

Sydney Bauer, a ranking student senator, said she wanted to make sure the University would keep their partnerships local.

“One of my concerns was supporting local economies. We have a lot of breweries right here in Minneapolis that we could partner with and that was kind of a concern of mine,” she said.

Kramer said that University Relations is also in favor of prioritizing smaller, local companies, despite interest from larger companies.

“… We would want to structure some sort of a deal to make absolutely sure that smaller companies across the state were able to participate. That reduces our revenue, because you’re not giving people exclusivity, but I think it also rewards Minnesota companies that are hiring our Minnesota college graduates,” Kramer said.

University members also brought up issues with directly affiliating the University’s brand with alcoholic beverages.

“Whether it’s binge drinking, excessive consumption, et cetera, those are all very legitimate concerns,” Kramer said. “And what I’ve pointed out is just saying we’re going to add a category to our accepted licensing and advertising doesn’t necessarily mean we’re jumping right in. There’s a lot of work that has to be done. We will have to decide what we will allow, what we won’t allow.”

In response to concerns discussed at the December board meeting, University Relations has already set one major restriction: Goldy Gopher will not be affiliated with the sale or marketing of alcohol.

“Goldy is, I can’t say a person, because I think he’s a gopher,” Kramer said with a smile. “But Goldy is somebody you interact with and I don’t necessarily want someone I interact with, or our fans interacting with, appearing on a bottle of wine, or cider or beer.”

Based on an analysis of the market and the revenue these partnerships have generated for other universities, University Relations estimates that the policy changes will generate about $300,000 in revenue for the University annually.

All revenue from licensing on the Twin Cities campus goes back into Gopher Athletics, Kramer said. However, sponsorship “goes with the entity that it originates at.” For example, if an event hosted by the School of Music is sponsored by a wine company, the revenue would go back to the School of Music, Kramer said.

Should the board pass the policy amendments in February, Kramer said next steps will include selecting national and local vendors. The initiative is slated to launch in fall of 2021.

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  • Olivia Toles
    Feb 3, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    I love the idea of local partnerships!