Advocacy Groups Object to Football-Liquor Tie Ins

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Diageo has cut deals with two more National Football League teams, including this year's Super Bowl winner, even as the spirits marketer's controversial sponsorship of the Washington Redskins comes under scrutiny from the NFL and two advocacy groups.

Dolphins, Patriots
A Diageo spokesman said the company has pacts in place with the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots -- the defending Super Bowl champ -- although they are of a smaller scope than the multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal it inked with the Redskins. The Dolphins and Patriots did not return calls for comment.

Diageo's deal with the Redskins includes signage in FedEx Field for its hard-liquor brands, including Smirnoff vodka, rather than for its malt-alternative brands such as Smirnoff Ice and Captain Morgan Gold. Anheuser-Busch Cos. is the team's exclusive malt-beverage sponsor.

'Social responsibility' ads
"This levels the playing field.

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Beer, wine and spirits are the same," the Diageo spokesman said. "Approximately 25% of our signage within [FedEx Field] is dedicated to social responsibility, which is much higher than you see in other venues and on TV."

Still, the NFL is reviewing the agreement to see if it violates the spirit of its sponsor guidelines. League rules prohibit distilled-spirits companies, tobacco products, firearms, fireworks and lotteries from using the NFL shield, team names or logos to market their products. Diageo has not used any NFL or team logos in its in-stadium advertising.

However, the NFL's shields will be used in social responsibility print and TV ads outside of the stadium, and Diageo is developing public service announcements with retired Redskins, the spokesman said.

The NFL declined to make further comment.

Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said he could not discuss the deal other than to say, "We're proud of our relationship with Diageo. They're a world-class marketing organization."

Conflict with Anheuser-Busch
Anheuser-Busch declined to comment, though it issued a statement: "Anheuser-Busch is the exclusive sponsor of the Redskins for the malt beverage category, which includes flavored alcohol beverage products. Our agreement with the Redskins gives us exclusive rights among malt beverages for stadium signage and team logos."

One longtime Redskins watcher said the team is risking the wrath of Anheuser-Busch by taking on Diageo as a sponsor. "The Redskins are embarking on a strategy that is short-term gain for long-term pain," he said.

Diageo will hold a press conference today in conjunction with the Redskins' appearance on ABC's Monday Night Football. Part of the sponsorship deal includes local TV, but the Diageo spokesman said he was not sure if News Corp.'s Fox affiliate in Washington -- which carries most Redskins games -- would air the two 30-second social responsibility ads that will run during the game on the stadium scoreboard. The ads are for Diageo's Bailey's Irish Cream and Smirnoff vodka.

General Electric Co.'s NBC last year said it would carry network spirits advertising, but reversed the decision under pressure. Viacom's CBS was said to have been ready to accept spirits ads had NBC not buckled; a CBS spokeswoman said the network has run ads for malt beverages during NFL telecasts.

'Peddling' hard liquor
Diageo's sponsorship with the Redskins has also drawn the attention of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group. "It's bad enough that pro sports is already saturated with beer," George Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project, said in a statement. "But it's really a major fumble for the Washington Redskins to make matters worse by peddling hard liquor in front of their young fans."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving also expressed concern: "Alcohol is alcohol and the effects on our children are the same, whether the ads are pushing Budweiser or Smirnoff Ice."

Mike Reisman, principal at the Wilton, Conn.-independent Velocity Sports & Entertainment, said Diageo could gain greatly if it handles this arrangement well. "If they pull it off, then you'll see these deals with every team."

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