Diageo becomes first spirits company to sign sponsorship deal with NFL

Diageo owned whiskeys in a bar at its head office in Edinburgh, where Diageo announced an investment of £ 150million over three years to transform its visitors’ Scotch whiskey experiences.

Andew Milligan | AP Images | Getty Images

Smirnoff Vodka owner Diageo has signed a multi-year contract with the NFL to become the league’s premier spirits sponsor.

While the National Football League has a long history of relationships with beer brands like Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light, it has been slower to embrace spirits. Until 2017, stills couldn’t even advertise during matches. An advertising campaign on the responsible consumption of Crown Royal whiskey by Diageo was the first liquor advertisement to air at an NFL game after the ban was lifted.

“What they have done in terms of accountability to us is truly above other spirits companies in the market,” said Nana-Yaw Asamoah, vice president of business development and sponsorship at the NFL. “And that goes for their marketing standards, which hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of the market, and sort of used it to inform our policies as we looked at ad restrictions and openness to ad. for spirits in games in 2017. “

Since the ban was repealed, the spirits industry has regulated its own advertising and marketing with voluntary guidelines for distillers. For example, the code requires spirits producers to advertise only in television programs where at least 71.6% of the audience is at least 21 years old. Spirits’ higher alcohol content carries a taboo that separates them from beer and wine in the eyes of some watchdogs, who want even stricter standards for hard liquor, citing concerns about underage consumers watching these. advertising.

Advertising spending in the spirits industry fell last year but is on the rise in 2021. According to Kantar Media, it increased 20% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year.

Ed Pilkington, marketing director for Diageo North America, said in an interview that the company will continue to focus on responsible drinking as part of its partnership with the NFL.

Diageo was also the first industrial sponsor of NASCAR, which lifted its ban on spirits partnerships in 2004. Asamoah said the NFL could have chosen a spirits sponsor two years earlier, but decided to wait.

“We always take the approach that we don’t have to be first, but we want to make sure we get it right,” he said. “After looking at other leagues and how they approached the spirits base and how we started in 2017 – in 2019 we allowed our teams to start having relationships with spirits brands, 20 of which have a spirits partner, so we really felt like it was a good time. “

Financial terms and the specific length of the deal between Diageo and the NFL were not disclosed in Wednesday’s announcement. It will include Diageo’s entire spirits portfolio, although the company plans to focus primarily on the Smirnoff, Crown Royal and Captain Morgan Spiced Rum brands at the start. His Guinness beer is not part of the deal.

Diageo also obtained the international rights. The NFL has tried to expand its fan base overseas with several international games each season in London and Mexico City. For the coming season, the league plans to host two games in London.

“We are excited about this as well, especially for our international brands like Captain and Smirnoff, which are big brands in the UK and have connections there as well,” said Pilkington.

In addition to displaying brand logos and TV commercials to millions of NFL fans, Diageo also plans to display its football league partnership in liquor stores and host responsible drinking programs. The company is also sponsoring the annual NFL Fan of the Year competition this year.

“We’ll make sure to do it in a really holistic way,” Pilkington said.

Prior to the sponsorship, Diageo already had partnerships with 12 NFL teams and stadiums. Pilkington said the company is in talks to add more teams to this list.

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