Diageo, Redskins ink exclusive sponsor deal

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Diageo has signed an unprecedented multimillion-dollar pact with the Washington Redskins to become the team's exclusive alcoholic-beverage sponsor-a deal that could give its brands a TV presence.

The multiyear agreement marks the first time a spirits company has sponsored a National Football League team, and it's believed to be the first time a spirits marketer has sponsored any pro sports team. The agreement includes signage for Smirnoff Ice and Captain Morgan Gold inside FedEx Field, and leaves the door open for other brands. The ads, likely to be seen on TV coverage of Redskins games, come amid a contentious debate over liquor ads on network TV.

Diageo, the world's largest liquor company, last year reached an agreement with General Electric Co.'s NBC to accept its network TV ads, and Viacom's CBS was expected to follow until NBC buckled under pressure from Washington. Diageo has continued talks with the networks and last week said it expected spirits ads to soon air. That statement came as two congressional leaders last week pushed for hearings on TV liquor advertising (see Late News, P. 2).

As it continues to push the bounds of standard practice, Diageo is said to be negotiating with other stadiums and teams to be on equal footing with brewers. Anheuser-Busch Cos. and SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. are present in all 32 NFL stadiums, via in-stadium signs and/or pouring rights. Coors Brewing Co. in June and wrested official NFL sponsorship from A-B with a five-year, $300 million deal.

It's uncertain whether the pre-game TV shows will carry spots for Diageo brands, according to one executive familiar with the deal. At least 25% of the stadium signage will advocate responsible drinking, though that is unlikely to assuage critics.

most valuable franchise

Diageo declined to comment. Calls for comment to the Redskins and the NFL were not returned. According to Forbes, the Redskins are the most valuable franchise in all of professional sports at $796 million.

Spirits companies have begun infiltrating stadiums. According to Kurt Hunzeker, editor of Team Marketing Report, Bacardi & Co. has ads at Pro Player Stadium in Miami and Brown-Forman Corp.'s Jack Daniels is in Denver and Oakland.

"It's a great move," Mr. Hunzeker said. "They're getting their hard-liquor brand out without having to go by the rules of hard-liquor advertising."

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