As well as having an interest in beer, one of my other great loves is sport. My attempts at participation were generally enjoyable, but success was limited, with the high point probably being winning a medal for the 440 yards at school. I can’t match the efforts of the authors of articles in the programme that I picked up at the St. Ives game on Boxing Day, one of whom has seen more than 12,000 football games while the other has visited more than 2,000 grounds, but I have been often enough to notice the close connection between sport and alcohol. This is strange in some ways. It is clear that consumption of alcoholic drinks is unlikely to improve performance on the pitch. I recently came across a video of a player at Corby rushing over to the spectators after he scored and grabbing a pint from which he took a long gulp. He admitted afterwards that it did not help his performance during the rest of the game. And yet how many teams are linked with alcohol? Sometimes it is shirt sponsorship with Liverpool performing with Carlsberg emblazoned on their chests for almost 20 years one of many examples. Sometimes it is the competitions that they aspire to win. In football, the Carling Premiership and Carling Cup have both been targets for the top clubs and Carling remains ‘the official beer of the Premier League’ whatever that means. In Rugby Union, we have had the Heineken Cup and the Guinness Pro 12, whilst Rugby League has its Kingston Press Championship. Some of the games are played at arenas such as the John Smiths Stadium in Huddersfield, the Tetley Stadium in Dewsbury or the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium in Wisbech.
Even some of the team names have a close link with alcohol, including two of the teams I follow closely. The Toronto Blue Jays baseball team were launched in 1976, with the majority shareholder being Labatt’s brewery and it is no coincidence that their best-selling product was Labatt’s Blue. At the other end of the scale, London Skolars Rugby League team originally started as a place where former students could continue to play the game, but the name was chosen in the hope of sponsorship from the brewers of Skol lager, a plan that has had very limited success,
It is also difficult to reconcile the tradition of the champagne celebration for winners of motor races with the attempts to limit drink driving. Indeed, Rugby Union legend, Dan Carter has recently had his sponsorship from the Jaguar car company removed after being caught driving while over the limit.
As the anti-alcohol lobby gain influence, some of these deals will come under greater scrutiny. Already there are plans to push for alcohol to be sold in plain containers in the same way as cigarettes, and a roll back of advertising and sponsorship will surely also be on the agenda, and although it may never become enshrined in legislation, perhaps moral pressure will mean that more responsible enterprises seek less controversial partners. But where will they come from? A cursory glance at sports teams shows a large number of betting firms involved. Is it better to encourage impressionable people to gamble their money away rather than drink beer? How about soft drinks such as cola or sports drinks which are awash with sugar and implicated in all kinds of health issues? Weed out the tax dodgers, the producers of environmentally damaging products and the companies that don’t pay minimum wages and what is left? Commercial managers, your task is not an easy one.