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Volume 23 No. 13
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College football beer spending doubled in ’16

Beer spending on college football broadcasts remains a fragment — 2.6 percent — of the overall spend, but it’s increasing at a rapid pace.

The $35.8 million spent by beermakers against college football last year represented a growth rate of more than 100 percent, according to SportsBusiness Journal research of data. Overall spending against college football grew at half that rate (see data below).

Not surprisingly, Coors Light’s spending on college football was first, just ahead of Bud Light. Notably, Heineken USA brands Dos Equis, Heineken, Heineken Light and Tecate all ranked among the top-10 beer spenders.

“College is the next evolution,” said Mike Sundet, who spent nearly 20 years as an Anheuser-Busch marketer, last serving as vice president of sports and entertainment marketing and advertising services, before joining Momentum Worldwide in 2015 as senior vice president of sports and entertainment. “For some of the brands, the college space has been kind of a black box. Now, they’re starting to figure it out, so beer competition is just going to get more heated there.”

Category pressures in the $37 billion domestic beer market also are fueling the industry’s collegiate push. A decade ago there were 1,500 brewers in the U.S.; now there are more than 5,000.

“The beer category is at a real crossroads,” said Andrew Judelson, IMG College’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “All you have to do is look at all the tap handles out there. It’s a dynamic time.”

As the beer market has become more fragmented, national and regional craft brews have increased their marketing spend. Subsequently, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have ratcheted up their advertising and marketing budgets, and acquired some of the smaller regional brands.

With that backdrop, and colleges and conferences acting more like pro sports properties, some even with their own networks, “there’s been more activity than ever,” said Peter Stern, whose New York agency, Strategic, has been handling Labatt’s sports marketing for more than a decade and is the brand’s sports agency of record.

“In the beer category, big platforms get locked up quickly and for a long time,” Stern said. “That’s why you see brands like Dos Equis and Corona jumping on these deals.”

While campus venues pour and beer marketers push for school intellectual property rights, regulations will keep it from ever rivaling autos and wireless as a college sports advertiser. Most national TV agreements limit beer or wine ads to 60 seconds per hour.

Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, for example, are significant spenders during the NCAA’s March Madness on Turner and CBS, but their advertising time is limited to a certain number of spots during the tournament.