User:NHHowell/Alcohol and Sport

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Budweiser, a large sports sponsorship contributor, by Nancy 2008
XXXX Maroons Training(25 June 2009, Cairns), by Peter Byrnes 2009

Alcohol and Sport have a long history together, dating back to the 16th Century when Britain's local pubs were the home of traditional sports such as bowls, cricket and wrestling matches.

Nowadays, sport has grown more dependent on alcohol, with alcohol companies being the major sponsors for most major sporting events and competitions, for example Victoria Bitter being the major sponsor for the NSW Blues in Rugby League and the Heineken Cup Rugby Union competition in the Northern Hemisphere. Alcohol is now a major source of revenue and business for sport.

However, as athlete issues with alcohol are becoming more prevalent, we are seeing sanctions handed down to them for their misbehaviour, such as Nate Myles’ recent sacking from the Sydney Roosters for breaking a team booze ban.

I will delve into the history of alcohol and sport and the common link that occurs between them now, and discuss the issue of how the majority of sports and clubs have major funding coming in from the sales and advertising of alcohol. I will discuss punishments handed down to athletes found to be abusing and misusing alcohol. I'm asking, how do clubs balance the interests of their sponsors, and the interests of their team and athletes in relation to alcohol?


Picture the team or the athlete that your company sponsors winning a championship or individual honour one night, however the next morning all you can read about is their drunken antics of later that evening. Would these be people that you would be willing to have represent your company?

Athletes making the headlines for all the wrong reasons isn't necessarily a new concept, however as the years roll on the incidents seem to be increasing in number. Players struggle with being in the public spotlight as it is, however with alcohol companies' sponsoring more and more sporting teams and competitions, the temptation of alcohol is always in their face. Obviously as the drunken incidents occur, action must be taken by clubs and sponsors. Clubs lose sponsors and clubs cull players but how is a balance reached between placating sponsors and quenching the fan's thirst for success?


Britain saw a rise in the popularity of sport in the 16th Century when sport began to be tied into the local pubs. The publicans, in essence, became the worlds first sports promoters. They organised any sporting match, be it cricket, wrestling, bowls or boxing, and acted as a bookmaker so as to increase interest in the event. They even created events involving animals, such as cock fighting.

As time went on, alcohol's involvement in the development of sport only increased with Cricket's first publication in 1755 'New Articles of the Game of Cricket' making mention of the contribution of 'The Star and Garter in Pall Mall', a popular inn of the time.

Collins & Wray made mention in their Institute of Alcohol Studies paper 'Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol' of an Anglican vicar in 1893 stating that "Football is a fascination of the devil and a twin sister of the drink system." As such, it was already apparent by the end of the 19th Century that alcohol and sport often came hand in hand.

As time went on, Alcohol became synonymous with athletes. These are epitomised by stories such as the mystery man in the bowler hat, believed to be Johnny Raper, from the rugby league 1967 Kangaroo Tour whereby a player was seen walking the streets of England, drunk and wearing nothing but a bowler hat and bow tie. Another famous story is David Boon consuming 52 beers, confirmed by team mate Geoff Lawson, on the 1989 flight to compete for the Ashes in England.


Alcohol Sponsorship[edit]

Tooheys New, by Amanda Slater 2009

As time goes on, alcohol sponsorship in sport is becoming increasingly prevalent. Most sporting teams or competitions now have an "official" drink, for example XXXX Bitter being referred to as the "Official beer of the Queensland Maroons" and the official NRL website stating "VB is the official beer of the National Rugby League, NSW Blues and naming rights partner of the VB Kangaroos. VB is also naming rights partner for the annual VB Test," and that's just rugby league!

Rugby Union has just as many, with competitions all over the world emblazoned with alcohol naming rights sponsors. For example, Europe's premier rugby competition is known as the Heineken Cup. The Northern Hemisphere's two other major competitions are also named after alcohol companies with the Magner's League (Ireland, Scotland, Wales) and the Guinness Premiership (England) following suit. The Australian national team, the Wallabies, has an 8 year relationship with Tooheys New, also listed on their website as their "official beer".

Motor sport also has its fair share of alcohol companies which sponsor teams. For example, Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam and Crown Royal all have teams within the NASCAR championship and Johnnie Walker has been a sponsor of McLaren since 2006. Johnnie Walker also sponsor golf tournaments, such as the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and until 2009, the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Alcohol sponsorship even extends down to a local sporting level, with the premier Sydney rugby union competition known as the Tooheys New Shute Shield until the end of 2010. This required all clubs to have Tooheys New Logos printed on each sleeve of their jersey. Furthermore, the local Newcastle rugby league competition is known as the Tooheys New Cup.

Alcohol Sponsorship Issues[edit]

Issues have previously arisen due to competitions and teams being sponsored by alcohol companies. This is due to some countries, such as Ukraine, France and India, banning the use of alcohol advertising. As such, when a Heineken Cup match is played in France, it must be referred to as the "H Cup". The Welsh national rugby union team found the same problem from 2004-2010 when their major naming rights sponsor was Brains Brewery. Whenever they played in France, they had to change their sponsors name to "Brawn" so as to abide by the laws of their host nation.

In 2008, UK's The Telegraph reported "Beer and cider companies which sponsor sports clubs could be responsible for making Britain's binge drinking culture worse." It referred to studies conducted at Manchester University and Australia's University of Newcastle which found 46.7 per cent of alcohol sponsorship deals included deals for very cut price drinks for club insiders, including players and officials, at functions and during post match celebrations. Some of these deals even included free drinks! The study reported that athletes who compete for clubs with alcohol sponsors were more likely to binge drink. Dr Kerry O'Brien, of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences, said of the study, "Sports people receiving direct alcohol-industry sponsorship of any kind, including payment of competition fees, costs for uniforms and the provision of alcohol beverages, reported more hazardous drinking than those not receiving sponsorship."

Grass Roots sport even has instances of cheap alcoholic beverages in certain situations. I can report that during the 2011 season, as a member of the Western Districts Lions u20s rugby union team in Canberra, I was offered nights out at the Academy Nightclub which included cheap drinks packages, free entry and the ability to skip to the front of the entry line. Is this really the treatment and message clubs, and sport as a whole, wants to send young athletes?

Sport needs alcohol revenue[edit]

Besides the fan's perspective of "What would the footy be if you were not able to have a beer while watching," revenue gained from alcohol companies keep many sporting teams afloat. Teams and competitions obtain an income not only from the aforementioned jersey and naming rights sponsorships but also from alcohol sales from within the events themselves.

Whilst there have been arguments against alcohol advertisements during sporting events or depicting athletes, sporting organisations are constantly fighting to justify the use of alcohol companies as sponsors. For example, in Brisbane's Courier Mail in 2009, Cricket Australia came out and said that eliminating alcohol sponsorship would lead to cuts in programs which facilitate active participation.

Triple M reported in 2009, the year the Australian Federal Government attempted to ban alcohol sponsorship in sport, that if alcohol sponsorships were banned, $300 million would be sucked out of the sporting economy. This would lead to clubs spending less on the grass roots level of sport and therefore the parents would have to pick up the cost. As such, registration costs would go through the roof which would ultimately lead to less kids playing sport. Is this really conducive to a healthy Australia or a successful sporting environment for a proud sporting nation like Australia?

Market analysts provided figures, for use in an alcohol sponsorship study conducted by Monash University, Deaking University and University of Western Sydney, that major alcohol companies spend up to 80 per cent of their advertising budgets on sporting events, competitions or teams. For example, in the US, alcohol companies spend $1 billion per year on advertising. Even if Australian companies spend only half of that, can we really afford to knock back $400 million worth of sponsorship?

Sports bosses have banded together in a bid to allow the continuation of alcohol sponsorship. AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou said "It would cripple football," and Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said "The danger with a simplistic approach like 'let's ban alcohol sponsorship of sport' is that all you do is significantly damage sport." NRL boss David Gallop concluded with "Our sponsors do a great deal of work promoting positive messages about responsible drinking and anyone who suggests sports could simply replace their support without substantial financial hardship is mistaken."

Player Misbehaviour and the need for success[edit]

It is no secret that the more successful your club is, the more sponsorship revenue you will receive. However, a question of how can you appropriately punish a player for an alcohol-related misdemeanor, yet still guarantee on-field success? It is something many clubs struggle with and often receive backlash for their decisions. With alcohol sponsorships and cheap alcohol constantly in front of them, it is near impossible to stop these alcohol related incidents occurring.

The most obvious example of this is Todd Carney. Carney has a detailed and well-known track record when it comes to drinking habits yet clubs continue to sign him. This is because when he concentrates solely on his rugby league, he is one of the best players in the world. This is evidenced by him winning the 2010 Dally M medal as the best player in the NRL for that season. As a recap, Todd has been in the news for:

  • Drink Driving (2006)
  • Drink Driving (2007)
  • Driving with a suspended license (2007)
  • Fleeing the scene (2007)
  • Urinated on a man in a Canberra nightclub (2008)
  • Sacked from the Canberra Raiders for not agreeing to a five point plan for rehabilitation (2008)
  • Vandalism (2009)
  • Fell from balcony (2010)
  • Drink driving (2011)
  • Broke team booze ban and subsequently sacked by Sydney Roosters (2011)

Does this sound like a man who you would want representing your club? The Cronulla Sharks certainly think so after they recently signed him for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Therein lies the problem, how can he learn from his mistakes if he is not being punished? Here is a man with an obvious alcohol problem, yet he is still being contracted to play for teams on the basis that he is one of the best athletes available. This ties in to the need for success as Cronulla have existed for 44 years and still have not won a premiership. They are also a club on the brink of folding due to a lack of funding. As such, they have looked to Carney, a known alcoholic, for assistance.

Sponsors often don't want to be associated with clubs or athletes who provide bad publicity, for obvious reasons. For example, in 2005 the Transport Accident Commission ended a 16 year relationship with the Richmond football club after a young player, Jay Schulz, was caught drink driving. This resulted in the TAC terminating their major sponsorship and led to the sacking of Schulz. The TAC allowed their slogan "Drink Drive. Bloody Idiot" to be placed on the back of the Richmond jersey despite knowing the Tigers had an agreement with Peter Lehmann of the Barossa, a wine company.


Evidently a balance needs to be reached between sponsorship funds being made available to sporting competitions and teams. Currently, alcohol companies provide much of the income afforded to clubs. If the government is wanting to ban all funding, it must come up with a rich, viable alternative. At this stage, it is not plausible to ban alcohol advertising or sponsorship of sport. There is also no evidence to suggest such sponsorship increases binge drinking. However, all alcohol sponsors still convey a responsible drinking message when associated with sport. Therefore, it can be concluded that the alcohol sponsorship should be able to remain in its current capacity unless governments can replace or provide more funding to keep sport around Australia,and the world, alive.


Link to a presentation associated with this page:


Alcohol Advertising, viewed 30/10/11,

Alcohol and Australian Sport: Australian Institute of Sport, viewed 01/11/11,

Alcohol industry sponsorship associated with more hazardous drinking among sportspeople, viewed 01/11/11,

Alcohol sponsorship of sport 'should be banned', viewed 30/10/11,

Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol, viewed 30/10/11,

Should the Government ban alcohol sponsorship?, viewed 31/10/11,

Sporting groups cry foul over alcohol sponsorship ban, viewed 02/11/11,

Sport handling the alcohol sponsorship issue poorly, viewed 31/10/11,

TAC terminates Richmond sponsorship, viewed 02/11/11,

Targets of alcohol advertising, viewed 31/10/11,

Todd Carney, viewed 01/11/11,