Students, faculty see UI's Anheuser-Busch contract as 'inconsistent'

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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Now that the Tigerhawk logo will officially share advertising space alongside approved Anheuser-Busch products, some students and faculty say the arrangement is inconsistent with the University of Iowa's recent campaign for responsible drinking.

The contract between Anheuser-Busch and Learfield Communications Inc. — the sports-marketing company hired to represent the Hawkeye Athletics Department — allows the Tigerhawk logo to share space on products with Anheuser-Busch logos, along with the phrase "Responsibility Matters."
Learfield will pay the Athletics Department $114 million through 2026 as part of a larger deal, said Chuck Schroeder of Hawkeye Sports Properties — a division of Learfield Sports. Learfield paid the department $5.8 million this year as part of a multimedia agreement.

Some of the proceeds will fund the school's alcohol harm reduction plan, Schroeder said.

But Jeffrey Cox, a UI history professor on the Presidential Committee on Athletics, said the contract detracts from the Athletics Department's successes, including sustaining academic integrity and operating without taxpayer dollars.

"This beer sponsorship decision undermines our ability to defend the integrity of the athletics program to the public and diverts attention from the good things about college athletics," he wrote in an email.

Cox said he is particularly disturbed the UI has signed this deal during its campaign against binge drinking and underage drinking.

UI President Sally Mason — according to an official statement provided by UI spokesman Tom Moore — said the contract's requirements remain consistent with the Partnership for Alcohol Safety's responsible-drinking message.

"The requirement that the possible use of the Tigerhawk logo be accompanied by the phrase 'Responsibility Matters' is consistent with our alcohol harm reduction initiative," Mason said in a statement. "The university will continue to emphasize that students and fans should consume alcohol only in a legal, safe, and responsible manner."

Mason said in the statement that Athletics Director Gary Barta discussed the plan with her prior to the agreement. Athletics Department officials were unavailable for comment Monday evening.

This is not the message UI officials sent to the company in 2009.

That year, Mason and several other universities wrote Anheuser-Busch to stop marketing beer cans dressed in school colors known as "fan cans." UI officials said they were concerned the cans would send a "mixed message" regarding the school's effort to get students to drink responsibly and legally, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

Student responses were mixed.

UI junior Drew Davis said he thinks the beer deal is inconsistent with this stance.

"I think it's all right, but it goes against what they're trying to do," he said. "But again, it's all about the money."

UI junior Tilly Finnegan-Kennel agreed.

"I don't necessarily think the university has a safe drinking message," she said.

UI Student Government President Nic Pottebaum had no comment about the contract, and alcohol-related topics are not cited on the organization's website as one of its platforms.

Despite the UI's public campaign against underage drinking and binge drinking, the institution remains in the Princeton Review's top party schools for 2012.

Officials at Ohio University and the University of Georgia, two schools joining the UI in the top five, said their schools do not have similar contracts with alcoholic-beverage companies.

Deanna Walters, the alcohol and other drugs coordinator at the University of Georgia's Center for Alcohol Awareness and Education, said the center is not affiliated with any alcohol distributers.

"I think it would be sending a mixed message to our students if we did," she said. "Although I know that alcohol distribution companies likely provide quite a bit of funding for programs at some schools."

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