The National Football League is allowing liquor companies for the first time ever to run ads during the upcoming season, putting pressure on the likes of brewers AB InBev (BUD) and MillerCoors, which have long hawked alcoholic beverages that have been socially acceptable by sports viewers.

New Rules

While liquor brands are finally allowed to advertise, they won’t have the same freedoms enjoyed by their beer counterparts. According to a report in Advertising Age, the spirits companies can only run four 30-second ads during any given game with the spots limited to two per quarter or during halftime. They are also prevented from having a football theme in the advertisements and cannot engage in any sponsorships, including those that run during the game.

Brewers, on the other hand, can’t include NFL players in ads, but they also don’t face similar restrictions as the hard liquor companies. Spirits advertisers also have to include a "prominent social responsibility message," reported Advertising Age, noting 20% of ads have to "consist exclusively of social responsibility messaging." (See also: Constellation Brands Offers to Buy Jack Daniels' Owner.)


The move on the part of the NFL to allow spirits ads comes at a time when sports leagues has been trying to lure new advertisers and sponsors in an effort to earn more money from companies beyond beer brands, automobile manufacturers and financial services firms which has made up the lions share of ads. While professional sports leagues have branched into new advertising areas up until now, the ban on liquor has held steady over concerns about the impact associating a professional sports star with liquor would have on young fans.

Mining Mind Share

For brewers, the NFL’s new stance may spell trouble since its share of the alcohol market is on the decline, falling to 50% in 2016, according to Advertising Age. In 2003 that stood at 58%. At the same time, spirits share of the market increased to 32% from 28% in the same time frame. (See more: AB InBevMisses on Q1 Earnings, Reiterates Outlook.)

The new ads during NFL games could end up further hurting beer sales. "Beer hasn't had a response to hard liquor and continues to lose share not just in share of market, but also in share of mind," an unnamed former beer industry executive told Advertising Age. "Beer has to make the point clear that hard liquor is not the same and should not be treated the same as beer. This deal blurs the line even more. If this is like a football game, liquor is running up the score and beer hasn't even fielded a team, let alone put together a game plan." 

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