The long-held tradition of separating professional sports stars from beer ads is changing.

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
Updated September 20, 2018
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Having a beer while watching the game is pretty routine for many sports fans. But while you’re cracking open a cold one and watching professional sports on TV, you may or may not have noticed one way in which beer and pro ballers don’t intersect: In beer commercials. For decades, major sports organizations like the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association have all held to a tradition of keeping their actively-playing stars away from the spotlight of alcohol advertisements. But recent agreements between players unions for the NBA and MLB and big beer company Anheuser-Busch InBev are doing away with that separation.

As Ad Age reports, the two leagues' players unions have recently struck deals with AB InBev that would allow athletes to use their celebrity to market alcoholic beverages. For the NBA Players Association, the agreement is taking advantage of recently renegotiated rights to control brand deals that incorporate multiple players images. That’s in stark contrast to the NFL which prohibits players from hocking booze altogether.

Neither the NBA or MLB actually have rules on the books that limit players’ promotional prospects, but typically the practice of being spokesmen for beer or liquor while currently signed to a team has been frowned upon. Retired players or sports announcers were about as close as an alcohol brand could get to recruiting anyone from the court or field, so the ability to use the games’ biggest stars is a huge boon to AB InBev. And the company’s chief marketing officer reiterated that notion, saying, “Fans are first and foremost connected to currently active players… That is what drives the conversation. This is what influences culture.”

The one caveat to this wide world of sports and beer collaborations is the oversight of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The federal organization is tasked with monitoring and rendering judgments on whether ads violate social responsibility norms, including alluding to the notion that “consumption of the alcoholic beverage will enhance athletic prowess, performance at athletic activities or events, health or conditioning.”

If you’re thinking you’ve already seen some current NBA athletes in alcohol ads, you’re right. Kevin Durant and his mom appeared in a Mother’s Day campaign for Budweiser in what was essentially a test run for what could be more than 16 NBA player-focused campaigns which would also incorporate team logos. The deal with Major League Baseball will take effect for the upcoming 2019 season. According to Ad Age, the NFL is not considering any change to its policy at this time.