Standing around discussing the abilities of elite athletes at the same time while holding a can of beer in their hands is a superb example of cultural irony. We speak about sports fans here. Alcohol, sports, and a particular interpretation of masculinity have long been valued together as a tripartite, codependent culture, from champagne-colored podium celebrations to locker-room high jinks and sports bars.
This is why last fall’s FIFA decision that alcohol wouldn’t be sold at venues hosting the Qatar World Cup 2022 games sparked outrage among sports enthusiasts who traveled to the Middle Eastern nation to see the world’s largest sporting event live. Soccer supporters were upset that it wasn’t as prevalent as at previous tournaments, even though it was still accessible in Qatar during the tournament within designated, official fan zones after 6:30 p.m.
Where, though, are this nexus’s origins? How did alcohol come to dominate the world of sports? Everything dates back at least to the Romans. To placate the populace and quell social unrest, they’d offer bread and circuses, which included wine and other alcoholic beverages. More recently, during the early years of popular radio, American advertisers quickly saw the value of associating their goods with a sports team. Local baseball teams were sponsored by regional breweries in an effort to foster cross-allegiances, where supporters’ attitudes and actions would be linked to loyalty to the regional beer that “brought you the game”.
As they relate to the market and a more general depiction regarding gender in contemporary culture, sports, beer, and masculinity collectively constitute a “Holy Trinity” that has been methodically naturalized. While males have historically been the main participants and fans in many elite-level sports, it’s a long-standing myth that what is now commonly known as “toxic masculinity” has made it impossible for men to freely discuss personal issues, emotions, or mental health. Beer encourages interaction between males and, to a greater extent, women.
It’s an element of sports culture, which is produced by generations of supporters communicating and creating symbolic attachments to bars as well as beer companies. Adding bookmakers to the equation, especially the reputable ones (such as the best US dollar bookmakers here), we have an entire men’s universe. Due to this, the majority of Victorian football fields are situated adjacent to bars. Alcohol serves as social lubrication in that regard.
This connection is created in the fire of alcohol and sports promotion. Based on sports market data business Sportcal, the 30 top alcoholic beverage manufacturers spend more than $760 million annually over more than 280 ongoing contracts to sponsor the greatest sporting events, teams, and players.
Heineken currently has 25 active collaborations, including a $21.4 million annual arrangement with Formula One and an agreement worth $10 million with Major League Soccer (MLS). Heineken spends around $118.3 million annually on sports sponsorships. The largest spender in the business on sports advertising is Bud Light, which invests $230 million annually in the NFL as part of its total $249.7 million in sports spending.
An analysis of the 2020 Rugby Six Nations Championship showed that, on average, throughout each game, there was a reference to alcohol. The majority of these have to do with Guinness, the event’s main sponsor. An analysis of broadcast English Premier League (EPL) soccer matches in Ethiopia, where advertisements for alcohol are prohibited, revealed that, during the course of a 90-minute game, alcohol advertising appeared on television for an average of 10.8 minutes on each occasion.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, making it the discipline that alcohol companies target the most. Soccer is the focus of almost 49% of all ongoing alcohol sponsorship agreements. Among them, 59% are aimed at European customers. North America, with 20% of the market, comes in second.
What does that actually mean? The British Beer and Pub Association predicted that on game day, pubs would serve 10 million pints as England prepared to play Denmark in the Euro 2020 semifinal. According to The Economist, 50,000 beverages would be bought per minute during the actual game.
Violence has been connected to excessive intake. Alcohol misuse and sports performance have a well-established relationship. According to a Lancaster University study from 2014, the number of domestic violence cases increases by 38% after England loses a soccer match. When they win or tie, they increase by 26%.
Integrating the Habit of Drinking at the Grassroots Level
But alcohol is widely available everywhere, not only in the major televised leagues. Grassroots sports clubs are frequently at the center of communities all around the world. These clubs manage junior and adult teams, while the clubhouse offers a mainly self-regulating social space.
The marriage of the sports culture with the beer and drinking culture is naturalized at this stage. It becomes a badge of acceptable masculinity, a declaration that you are a “real man” as opposed to someone who “opts out” and might have his manhood questioned. In other words, it’s a socialization exercise that is embedded in what it implies to be a man — a man, of course, under the terms and circumstances of “the good old days” when “men were men”. This idealized masculinity is referred to as “vestigial hyper-masculinity” by some academics, such as Loyola Marymount University’s Lawrence Wenner.
While it’s undeniable that the traditions of sports and alcohol have had an impact on the evolution of male identity in both the 20th and 21st centuries, its proponents contend that without the money from the sponsorship of alcohol and sales, many chances for individuals to play sports would not exist.
According to estimates, alcohol sponsorship of sports in the UK alone amounts to 300 million British pounds ($350 million), or roughly 12% of all sports sponsorship in the nation. About 50 million pounds ($60 million) of that is allocated specifically to amateur sports. The Portman Group, a trade association for the alcohol industry that advocates responsible drinking and seeks to shield youngsters from alcohol marketing, points out that this generates investment in facilities, stadiums, player development, regional structures, and tournaments.
The alcohol industry’s charter forbids sponsoring marketing campaigns from implying that drinking alcohol before or while participating in sports is permissible. A tenth of UK sponsorship for sports comes from the alcohol industry, which promotes a balanced, healthy lifestyle by funding amateur sports and cultural events. By sponsoring equipment and infrastructure to enhance professional and amateur sports via partnerships, sponsorship makes actions more accessible.
Separating Alcohol and Sports
Is it already now too late to decouple sports and alcohol, even if that were desired?
Although there may be social and health benefits to doing so, market demand continues to be the most potent change agent. Culture can change if there’s money to be made. Additionally, sponsors of sports teams are seeking to broaden their global presence in new geographic regions. The Formula One festivities in Bahrain, for instance, include sparkling grape drinks. It seems to be a champagne party everywhere in the world to untrained eyes.
Instead of separating drinking culture from sports, the alcohol business has found a way to engage clients in Islamic or Muslim-majority nations by substituting a regionally palatable variant. In an effort to strike a balance, several nations, particularly those in the Middle East, are currently engaged in a large campaign related to “sport-washing”. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they’re going to start offering drinks without alcohol.
It might provide an environment where consumers who are men in these nations can partake in this sports-drinking lifestyle legally and morally, fulfilling the desires of Budweiser and the other major corporations. That’s “beer-washing”. Similar to this, when women’s sports gain popularity, advertisers seem reasonably reluctant to sever a profitable relationship and instead adapt, showing more women in booze advertising—this time as customers rather than assets, which had been a defining characteristic of historical alcohol advertising.
The alcohol industries are hoping to profit from this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. Hard liquor is frequently also advertised to women in addition to beer. The connection between women, sports, and alcohol is defined as a feminist issue by Professor Catherine Palmer of Northumbria University. She notes that, when compared to men’s consumption, women’s relationships with alcohol are invariably framed as problematic.
She posted in 2019 that drinking while sports is just as enjoyable and harmful for women as it is for males. It’s unlikely that the long-standing tradition of combining sports with drink will end anytime soon. If no other sources of money for sports are found, alcohol sponsorship is going to continue to be very important to both amateur and professional teams and events. However, culture does evolve and grow, particularly when there’s a commercial motive.
We may yet observe an economic incentive in inclusiveness and a dissociation of the more “toxic” and violent aspects of the culture as the realms of sports and alcohol continue to change in an effort to appeal to non-traditional audiences. And to that, a glass should be raised.