College Sports Networks Do Without Beer Money

With each side enriching the other, beer advertising and sports TV have had an ideal marriage for decades. Yet, Kim Carver has been content with a divorce.

A beer drinker herself, the head of the Mountain West Conference network hasn't been willing to crack open the alcohol category. So, since the 2006 launch of The Mtn., there have been no ads from the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Coors.

Football viewers must be disoriented with so many on other networks. Meanwhile, others may wonder whether Carver has her wits about her by risking leaving cash on the table.

But, she says the ads don't quite square with the brands the Mountain West member schools want to project.

"We are clearly a college sports network and I just feel a sense of responsibility to holding that title," she says.

Among networks directly affiliated with universities, the Big Ten Network (BTN) has taken the same approach since its 2007 launch. ESPN's new Longhorn Network, focusing on University of Texas sports, is accepting alcohol advertising under the same policies that apply to other ESPN channels.



A Pac-12 representative said no decisions have been made regarding what will happen when that conference launches multiple networks next year. In keeping with university policies on alcohol use, the network owned by Brigham Young (BYUtv) declines alcohol sponsorships (it doesn't take traditional advertising and relies on a PBS-style sponsorship model).

Since Carver took over as vice president and general manager of The Mtn. just before launch, policies have extended to also declining ads for gambling and erectile dysfunction remedies. Pfizer has sought to run ads for Viagra, but the network turned it down.

Carver is, however, unsure about whether there is a flood of beer dollars The Mtn. is forgoing. The network's reach is only a little over 12 million homes and no beer advertisers have approached the network, so that may be a signal of low demand right there.

The Mtn.'s no-alcohol advertising policy is not necessarily airtight. It would consider sponsorships for halftime shows and other programming depending on the message, environment and other factors, but the need to make a decision hasn't arrived.

In fairness, Carver's decision may have been made easier with Brigham Young and the University of Utah as conference members with their strict anti-alcohol policies. But both schools have just left the Mountain West and there's no plan to send sales executives to MillerCoors.

The network is jointly owned by Comcast and CBS Corp., but Carver said neither has placed any pressure on her to expand into a potentially lucrative category. (Alcohol advertising accounted for $94 million in ad spending in college baseball, basketball and football games in 2010, according to Kantar Media.)

While The Mtn. has been around a year longer, the Big Ten Network has been the pacesetter in university-linked sports networks. With its success, BTN has arguably sparked ESPN to launch the Longhorn Network this fall and encouraged the Pac-12 to move into the game a year from now.

In June 2006, when the Big Ten announced its coming network, the most striking aspect was a commitment to turn away alcohol or "gambling-related" ads to "ensure consistency with the Big Ten's brand values." BTN, which is in 45 million homes, recently became majority owned by Fox, but the policy is not expected to change, given conference commissioner James Delany's position on the issue.

The willingness to take alcohol ads at the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network is surprising since it is so closely identified with one school, but a UT official said the university was comfortable with ESPN's policies. An ESPN representative declined comment.

According to a copy of its 2010 advertising guidelines published by Deadspin, ESPN accepts ads in NCAA programming for malt beverages, beer and wine products, which have alcohol contents of 6% or less. Casino advertising is not permitted during NCAA games. Decisions on erectile dysfunction ads are made on a "case-by-case basis and subject to scheduling restrictions" and the creative must be "presented in good taste."

It's hard to believe the Pac-12 in 2012 will be the last to launch a network affiliated with a conference or school. Refusals to accept beer advertising could mark a small break from the avarice sweeping college sports.

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