The National Football League has loosened its alcohol ad policies, including giving official sponsors the freedom to use active players in beer ads for the first time.
The changes were first reported by Morning Consult, which cited a league email sent this week to team presidents and marketing and sponsorship executives. While liquor brands still cannot use active players in marketing, booze marketers can now promote themselves as the “official” product of teams they sponsor, according to the Morning Consult report.
An NFL spokesman did not immediately return an email from Ad Age seeking comment. But Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is the NFL’s official beer sponsor, confirmed the changes. The NFL’s update follows a deal the brewer struck last year with pro baseball and basketball players unions that cleared the way for the brewer to use more active players in ads from those sports.
“Anheuser-Busch’s landmark agreement with the players association for the NBA and MLB was a first for the alcohol industry. With the NFL’s recent announcement, we now have rights to partner with active players in the three biggest leagues in the U.S.,” Marcel Marcondes, the brewer’s U.S. chief marketing officer, said in a statement. “Through these agreements A-B brands have the opportunity to connect with fans in new ways and to not just highlight these players as great athletes, but more importantly, as great people. This is a win for fans, the league and its players as well as the sponsors.”
Other brewers that have individual team deals, such as MillerCoors, also stand to benefit.
Spirits brands had been banned from running ads of any kind during NFL games until the league lifted the ban in 2017. Beer brands have long been able to run ads during games, but marketers were barred from using active players. That explains why so many beer ads relied on retired stars and coaches in ads.
The newly relaxed rules put the NFL on par with other pro sports leagues, such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, which do not have strict rules prohibiting the use of active players. Still, the use of active players for ads involving players in those leagues had been relatively infrequent before AB InBev’s deal last year with the unions, which cleared the way for the brewer to be more aggressive. Earlier this year, Budweiser put NBA star Dwyane Wade in an ad that went viral.
Beer brands will still face some restrictions under the updated NFL policy. For instance, players in ads must be in uniform, not street clothes, and they cannot make direct product endorsements, according to one company briefed on the rules. Also, some of the rules governing beer ads are outside of the NFL’s purview. For instance, federal regulations overseen by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ban alcohol product labels or ads from including anything suggesting the "consumption of the alcoholic beverage will enhance athletic prowess, performance at athletic activities or events, health or conditioning.”