WATCH THE beer commercials during Sunday’s Super Bowl, and you’ll see ponies and horses and Pac-Man.
Here’s what you won’t see during breaks in America’s most-watched athletic event: professional athletes.
Though sports celebrities these days endorse everything from underpants to arthritis meds, beer is apparently off limits.
Think about it: When was the last time you saw an athlete touting his or her favorite brewski on TV? I’m thinking it was Lance Armstrong shilling for Michelob Ultra during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
Yes, beer logos are everywhere in sports, and Anheuser-Busch once again will be the top advertiser during the Super Bowl, shelling out a reported $4.5 million per spot. But none of those commercials will feature an actual celebrity athlete.
Beer-swilling jocks were once commonplace on TV and print advertising. Former Broncos quarterback John Elway for Coors. Ex-Buccaneers coach John Gruden for Corona. Boxer Manny Pacquiao for San Miguel. (I’ve posted images on my website of beer ads with athletes dating all the way back to Ty Cobb, circa 1918. ) And these ads sold beer.
Remember, it was a pack of professional athletes – including Mickey Mantle, Dick Butkus, Whitey Ford, Bubba Smith, Boog Powell and, memorably, Bob Uecker – arguing over “Tastes Great, Less Filling” that propelled Miller Lite into the stratosphere.
There are two reasons that we no longer see athletes in beer commercials:
Beer is unfit for sports stars.
Yes, athletes drink beer. And, yes, beer can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
But maybe pounding a few beers isn’t the best image for celebs trying to pass themselves off as squeaky-clean role models. Think Derek Jeter or Tim Tebow.
NFL policy prohibits current players from endorsing alcohol and tobacco. The ban does not apply to ex-players. But even when professional athletes are permitted to endorse beer (the NHL, for example), their agents often advise against it.
For example, after a Jose Cuervo tequila endorsement deal was rejected by Olympic snowboarder Scotty Lago, his agent reasoned, “Why bother? “
The agent, Circe Wallace, told ESPN.com, “When you’re gearing toward a young demographic and as an ambassador for your sport, to encourage drinking is a questionable move.”
_ Sports stars are unfit for beer.
The roster of athletes who were arrested for serious crimes is a long one. There’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to them.
Rae Carruth and Aaron Hernandez (murder). Darren Sharper and Mike Tyson (rape). Lenny Dykstra (fraud). Dwight Gooden, Dexter Manley and Jamal Lewis (drugs). Tonya Harding and Donte Stallworth (DUI). Michael Vick (animal abuse). Adrian Peterson (negligent injury to a child).
At one time, all of them were popular spokespeople for various products.
The NFL is especially dicey turf for alcohol. According to an appalling database compiled by USA Today, almost 250 players have been charged with driving under the influence or other alcohol-related offenses since 2000.
Certainly there are many suitable players who can represent companies. But with that track record, why would a beer maker want to risk its image on a jock?
Until recently, I would’ve guessed that with all the money at stake, beer and sports would never give up on each other. But the infamous Ray Rice beating episode is putting pressure on the relationship.
When the NFL failed to issue a serious penalty against the Baltimore Ravens running back, Anheuser-Busch – aware that the brutal assault had been blamed on heavy drinking – had no choice but to join the public outcry. The company said that it was “not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and code. “
That seemingly principled statement was shouted down by skeptical women’s advocacy groups and others.
Comedian Jon Stewart joked, “How crazy is this? A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone of the NFL. “
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, in a tweet to his half-million followers, accused A-B of “selling poison on that high horse . . . Domestic violence and alcohol damn near synonymous. “
No wonder that, when Heineken went looking for a celebrity to promote its brand last year, it shied away from juiced up linebackers and went with Broadway song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris.