Sports Law Blog
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Friday, February 16, 2007
The Peculiarities of Beer Advertising and Major League Baseball

A new commercial in Japan for Asashi Beer--Japan's highest selling "biru" or beer--features Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka chugging down a cold Asashi. The ad also features Matsuzaka in his Red Sox uniform. You can watch the ad here:

The ad has drawn some attention since Major League Baseball does not allow its players to endorse alcohol domestically, although that rule does not apply to international markets. (also, and not relevant to this post: the ad would not be allowed in the U.S. because industry actors voluntary refrain from televised images of persons consuming alcohol). The basic thinking behind MLB's domestic ban is that beer is a potentially dangerous product and MLB doesn't want its players to promote it--particularly because young persons watching beer ads are more likely to drink, and MLB doesn't want to exacerbate the problem.

Fair enough. But if MLB is so worried about beer ads, why does it allow beer companies to advertise their products during games? Beer companies, in fact, love to air commercials during sporting events--and these ads have been found to expose children to dangerous behaviors. Consider the following findings from the December 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics and from Bradley S. Greenberg and Sarah F. Rosaen in their article Television and Young People: Violence, Sex, Booze, and Greed, 2005 Michigan State Law Review 857 (2005)
Alcohol manufacturers spend $5.7 billion/year on advertising and promotion. Young people typically view 2000 beer and wine commercials annually, with most of the ads concentrated in sports programming. During prime time, only 1 alcohol ad appears every 4 hours; yet, in sports programming, the frequency increases to 2.4 ads per hour. Research has found that adolescent drinkers are more likely to have been exposed to alcohol advertising. Given that children begin making decisions about alcohol at an early age—probably during grade school—exposure to beer commercials represents a significant risk factor. Minority children may be at particular risk. ----Committee on Communications, Children, Adolescents, and Advertising, 118 Pediatrics 2563-2569 (2006)).

Alcohol ads appear about once every four hours during prime-time programming, 2.4 times per hour during sports programs, and about three times per hour for ads that are within sports programs, like billboards in a stadium. On popular teen and adult TV shows, alcohol is consumed in 71 percent of all programs and 65 percent of teen programs, but only 23 percent of the episodes associated alcohol with negative consequences. These depictions are of interest because modeling occurs more often when behaviors are unpunished, according to social learning theory.

Heavy exposure to alcohol advertising leads to the view that drinkers possess the positive qualities displayed-such as being attractive, having positive attitudes about drinking, drinking heavily and thinking that it is acceptable, and driving after drinking. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 80 percent of young people think drinking is acceptable if there is a designated driver.
----Bradley S. Greenberg and Sarah F. Rosaen, Television and Young People: Violence, Sex, Booze, and Greed, 2005 Mich. St. L. Rev. 857 (2005).
Also, why do MLB and each individual team have official beer sponsors? And why can you buy beer mugs and glasses on And why do big league teams sell to beer companies the naming rights to certain seats, such as the Washington Nationals' Miller Lite Beer Pen? Heck, if beer is such a worry to MLB, why is it even sold at games?

Now, I recognize that there is a distinction between players affirmatively endorsing a product and the league licensing its name to be used in a product ad. I suppose one could argue that the former seems more "active" and a greater reflection of the league itself. But I'm not sure that distinction is so strong or even correct. After-all, why would those companies pay MLB lots of $$ if those licenses weren't valuable?

Along those lines, if MLB really wants to deter kids from getting hurt, why doesn't it prohibit smokeless tobacco?


Probably the MLB is caught up in that "Master-Agent" construction for how they view their players. If their players (agents, i.e. multi-million dollar servants) endorse a product or engage in offensive conduct, would it appear to have been done under the imprimatur of authority of the master?

If we think of players as free agents, maybe not--except that they're still wearing the team colors. I'm also thinking here of "aided in agency relation," that without the benefit of being associated with a team the players would not have as much endorsement power. Aided in agency relation--that uniform sure helps in recognizability and cognitive association. "I like this team, this guy who's a part of the team likes this product, I like this guy and this team, I like this product."

I guess the question is, do MLB teams own their players? If they could be stuck with vicarious liability, couldn't they also be stuck with attenuated endorsement?

But you raise really interesting points about whether there's really any point given the corporate sponsorship of sports (in which case the teams are the agents) and if this is all just hair-splitting moralization.

Blogger Belle Lettre -- 2/16/2007 10:29 PM  

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