Officials, students split on UI Anheuser-Busch deal's impact

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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As University of Iowa officials try to play down the party-school image bestowed upon it in recent years, opinions differ on whether or not the contract between Anheuser-Busch and the university would actually affect students' drinking habits.

UI marketing Professor Gary Russell said he doesn't necessarily think the contract alone will encourage students to drink more, but he said the university is not sending a consistent message.

"I think you can make an argument that whenever the University of Iowa associates itself with a product, it is indirectly endorsing the product," he said.

But UI officials said they don't think displaying the Tigerhawk logo with an alcohol company goes against the university's "Responsibility Matters" 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," President Sally Mason said in an official statement. "The university will continue to emphasize that students and fans should consume alcohol only in a legal, safe, and responsible matter."

Learfield Communications Inc. was hired to represent the Hawkeye Athletics Department. The contract allows the Tigerhawk logo to share space on products with Anheuser-Busch logos along with the phrase "Responsibility Matters."

Russell believes the effect of social settings on students is much more important than anything the university does.

"The question is what will students do with this," he said. "Will this encourage students to drink more?"

Russell said the contract is at odds with the university's platform on underage drinking.

"It's like one part of the university is endorsing alcohol and the other part is saying, 'Don't do it,' " he said. "The university is being schizophrenic about this."

Russell said it is not unusual for an athletics department to partner with a company such as Anheuser-Busch. He said the Busch symbols are very well known from a marketing perspective, and they have a very well-known brand image.

"There is some concern that this is not a great idea," he said. "On the one hand, you could say sports is associated with beer, and so is the Super Bowl, so there is really nothing unusual with the Athletics Department being associated Anheuser-Busch."

Chuck Schroeder, the general manager of Hawkeye Property Sports, said there will not be any Tigerhawk logos on cans of Busch Beer.

"All uses of the Tigerhawk … will come with university approval," he said.

Schroeder said everything is yet to be determined and no final decisions have been made.

"Rather than me saying it's never going to happen, I think the use of the logo on cans is extremely unlikely," he said. "It's not where we're at right now."

UI student Madella Smith does not think the partnership is going in the direction the university has seemed to be heading in the past few years.

"I'm hesitant about it especially since Iowa has a party image," she said. "I feel it would only further promote the party image and it seems like they're trying to get away from that."

UI senior Caitlin Barnes does not feel the same way; she thinks the partnership will not affect students.

"I really don't think it will have that much of an effect," she said. "[Students] are going to drink anything they want anyway."

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