The PGA Tour lifts liquor TV ad ban and will take gambling sponsorships

Booze and gambling sports marketing barriers keep falling

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Credit: Illustration by Ad Age. Composite image istock

The PGA Tour has lifted its liquor TV ad ban, while also paving the way for gambling sponsorships. The policy changes—which were communicated this week to players—breaks down another spirits advertising barrier while giving the betting industry another nudge into the mainstream.

The pro golf tour will keep its TV ad ban on gambling brands but the change allows players to strike endorsement deals with casinos and other gambling entities. However, the PGA Tour will not allow deals with companies whose primary purpose is sports betting. So players could ink an endorsement with Caesar's or MGM, for instance, but not William Hill, which operates sportsbooks, Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour's senior VP of tournament administration, said in an interview. Deals with fantasy sports brands FanDuel and DraftKings will also be allowed.

The tour's decision follows moves by other pro sports leagues to begin accepting gambling sponsorships in the wake of last year's landmark Supreme Court ruling that freed states to legalize sports betting outside of Nevada, where it has long been legal. Sports betting is now legal in seven states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with legislation introduced in many other states, according to ESPN's betting bill tracker.

Levinson cited the change in public perception about gambling as a reason the PGA Tour opened the sponsorship door. "Most of the gaming companies in the U.S. are not just about betting," he says. "They also have a great deal of experience in consumer-facing technology," he adds. "That expertise is going to be extremely beneficial to the PGA Tour and will hopefully help us reach new audiences."

As for why the tour won't yet accept gambling brand TV ads, he says: "There are more complexities that go into our broadcast relationships. We need a little more time to navigate through those."

More momentum for spirits industry

The liquor TV ad ban will be lifted immediately, however, which could boost the value of the PGA Tour's TV rights deals. The existing pacts with CBS and NBC expire at the end of 2021. Booze and golf are a natural pairing since people who play recreationally often drink while playing. Meantime, so-called "19th-hole" bars have long been a part of the sport's culture.

"There has been interest form liquor brands in our product," Levinson says. "We have a very attractive audience to that segment." The new policy also allows individual players to strike liquor endorsement deals that could include the placement of liquor brand names or logos on their playing apparel.

The liquor policy does not extend to golf's four major pro tournaments—The Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open—which are overseen by outside entities. But some of those events already accept liquor TV ads. For instance, Crown Royal ran ads during the 2018 PGA Championship and Patron ran an ad during the 2018 U.S. Open, according to TV ad-tracking service iSpot. The Masters only allows limited number of TV ads. Last year, the slots were primarily filled by AT&T, Mercedes Benz and IBM, according to iSpot.

The PGA Tour's liberalized liquor policy comes two years after the National Football League lifted its spirits ad ban, which was a major milestone in the industry's drive to shed its second-class ad status when compared with beer.

As recently as the early 1990s liquor ads did not appear on any TV programming as the industry adhered to a self-imposed ban that began in 1948. But in recent years, spirits brands have gotten much more aggressive with their marketing—a factor that has boosted growth at a time when beer industry sales volumes have fallen.

Chris Swonger, president and CEO of liquor trade group the Distilled Spirits Council, praised the PGA Tour's move, calling it a "recognition of where consumers have moved in the marketplace over the last two decades."

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