Back in the 1990’s, it was commonplace to see alcohol companies sponsoring leading sports teams. Brands like Carlsberg, Coors, McEwan’s Lager and Newcastle Brown Ale became synonymous with the classic football shirts of Liverpool, Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United respectively for fans of a certain age.
However, as the 2017/18 season kicked off, the final alcohol company stepped away from being a primary shirt sponsor of a Premier League club. Regardless, alcohol has remained a massive spender in football and the sports marketing industry.
As of today, evolving public perceptions, the growth in low- and no-alcohol beverages, and the rise of the “teepartial fan” means the relationship between alcohol and sports is seeing a significant shift that brands must address.
How alcohol is synonymous with sports marketing
Returning to the 90’s, the classic sports marketing-inspired film Jerry Maguire saw character Marcee Tidwell demand her NFL superstar husband receive sponsorship from one of “the big four: shoes, car, clothing line, soft drink.” That big four has evolved over the last few decades, with new players like financial services, technology, and telecoms spending big on sports marketing.
However, Marcee failed to recognise alcohol brands, which have remained a mainstay within the Top 10 spenders list in sports. Heineken is the official sponsor of UEFA’s Champions League and Guinness remains the primary sponsor of rugby’s Six Nations Championship. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi and Budweiser made headlines recently, celebrating the legendary footballer setting the record for the most goals scored for one club by sending goalkeepers a bottle of beer for every goal he scored past them.
Indeed, research by Sportcal finds the 30 top alcohol brands spend more than $760 million per year sponsoring leading sports competitions, clubs and athletes. However, brands are coming under greater scrutiny through new legislation and evolving consumer preferences – especially those of younger audiences.
As such, alcohol in sports marketing is becoming a complex category. For example, in France, alcohol advertising is strictly regulated by Loi Evin, which restricts the content of ads and the media that feature them. While in the US, major sports leagues have freed up rights for players and teams to advertise with alcohol partners. So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach here.
However, one change that seems set to remain consistent worldwide is the rapid growth of the low- and no-alcohol sector. Alcohol-free beer was the fastest-growing drinks trend in the summer of 2019, with overall sales up by 58% compared to 2018. And the COVID pandemic has only seen this trend accelerate. As our Human Understanding Lab suggest in our report on “the new drinker”, Millennials and Generation Z individuals are becoming increasingly abstemious. But older generations are also exploring low alcohol beverages as health, wellbeing and physical fitness awareness continues to grow.
Major alcohol companies have, of course, reacted to this change. For example, we’ve seen Heineken’s 0.0% branding emblazon the starting grid of Formula 1 races and replace Amstel as the UEFA Europa League sponsor. And Anheuser-Busch InBev includes Budweiser Zero ads as part of its Premier League sponsorship. But this is only the start of things to come, and alcohol brands need to evolve their products and marketing to meet evolving consumer expectations.
The rise of Teepartialism
At UNLIMITED, we coined the term TeePartial to characterise new and future alcohol consumers’ living and consumption habits. This was borne out of insights from our Human Understanding Lab, which found people are generally drinking less. More key findings from the research included:
- One in five people are teetotal (20%)
- One third are moderate to heavy drinkers (32%)
- 27% of people are considered “binge drinkers”
- Around half are somewhere in the middle or TeePartial (48%)
- Breaking that 48% majority down further, we see 27% are low to infrequent drinkers, and 21% are actively trying to cut down their alcohol consumption
- 57% of people (around 29 million people) drink alcohol weekly
The research also found that people are drinking wine and spirits more frequently and more likely to drink alcohol with food or at home instead of only drinking in pubs. This indicates that the TeePartial individual prefers non-binary “flex lifestyles” that enable them to compromise and enjoy flexible choices. They’re also increasingly focused on health, wellness and fitness and consider the over-consumption of alcohol socially unacceptable.
As such, TeePartialism means taking a more considered approach to alcohol consumption. It involves finding strategies for reducing the volume and frequency of alcohol consumption and being more careful about beverage choices. In other words, these individuals will sometimes choose alcohol, but sometimes they won’t, and they’re also resistant to peer pressure and traditions.
Crucially, TeePartialism is seeing an increase in low- or no-alcohol products that fit into the new consumer’s lifestyle. As a result, alcohol brands need to adapt to survive in this new environment.
Appealing to the TeePartial sports fan
Given alcohol’s traditional relationship with sports, the rise of TeePartialism raises an interesting conundrum. For many, alcohol will remain integral to their enjoyment of sports events, while others will intentionally reduce their alcohol consumption. This consideration will vary on an individual basis, making it crucial for brands to allow for those variances.
For example, discussing Guinness’ sponsorship of the Six Nations, Rory Sheridan, Head of Partnerships at Diageo, said: “The ambition for every brand in sponsorship is always growth – of awareness, of engagement, and ultimately of revenues.”
Awareness is essential and well catered for in the sponsorship of major events like the Six Nations. However, the ability to drive fan engagement is critical and so, therefore, are the flexibility, rights and inventory that brands negotiate as part of their sponsorships.
At a basic level, this could involve ensuring the flexibility to offer equal priority between alcoholic and non-alcoholic products at venues and points of sale and through branding and promotions. However, to be more targeted, brands also need to fully understand their audience. This is particularly crucial to successfully target younger demographics who want their alcohol consumption to fit their healthy and enjoyable flexible lifestyle.
Alcohol brands’ need for change
The evolving requirements of the TeePartial fan beg the question of whether brands’ traditional encouragements to “drink responsibly” are really enough. For example, research by our LAB has shown us that 65% of UK sports fans believe it’s more critical for sponsors to offer messages of purpose and improved health than they did pre-COVID.
Brands have several options here, including:
Product properties: Erdinger has branded its Alkoholfrei product as a “sporty thirst-quencher.” The non-alcoholic drink offers low calories and contains isotonic and vitamins B9 and B12, leading the company to promote it as suitable for a varied, balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Consequently, Erdinger has used the product for athlete sponsorships in Germany and, more recently, British Canoeing.
Gamification: Alcohol brands have an opportunity to consider how they gamify and incentivise reduction efforts – tickets, content, discounts, exclusive events, delivered through a passionate sponsorship, to those who hit their stated reduction targets,
Inclusivity: It’s increasingly crucial to make all consumers feel included and valued. Brands can create fully inclusive venues that see alcohol and non-alcohol products sit side by side and offer equally exciting options to consumers.
Mindset: A crucial step is to avoid the division of consumers as drinkers and non-drinkers. Our research shows the majority mindset sits somewhere in the middle and wants the flexibility to choose.
What’s clear is that the TeePartial drinker isn’t satisfied with the choices currently available. These individuals often regard their choices as outmoded, overly traditional and unhealthy. Rather than viewing this as a threat, brands need to see evolving consumer habits and preferences as an opportunity to innovate and engage.
How Sport UNLIMITED can help
Brands that succeed in tapping into the TeePartial sports fan’s mindset will enjoy lucrative partnerships that marry increased awareness with creative engagement. As a result, they can appeal to new consumers who want to experience their products in different ways.
The key to achieving this is understanding the role of emotion. Emotion is at the heart of consumer decision-making but primarily operates at the unconscious level. Sport UNLIMITED and our in-house team of neuroscientists and behavioural scientists use industry-leading techniques to understand audiences and the emotions, motivations and barriers that drive their decision-making.
As a result, we can unlock how individual fans feel and understand why they love the individual, team or competition they do. Using that insight, we help brands identify which levers they need to pull to drive optimal engagement.
Coupling this unique insight with our experience in the alcohol sector and ability to identify the traditional and ‘new’ drinkers offers a powerful combination. This enables us to develop strategies, secure the right partnerships and activate with excellence to help your brand tap into the potential of the new TeePartial sports fan.