Friday, August 28, 2009

Beer and the UW

They used to joke that the largest draft beer account in Dane County was the University of Wisconsin. It’s probably not true, but when you consider the amount of beer that flows from the taps at the Union Terrace and Der Rathskeller, it’s got to be a lot of suds. Any place that’s got Spotted Cow, Guinness, Corona, and Heineken on tap, like the Rathskeller does, is bound to be popular.

But, as the students begin to return to campus for the fall semester, the UW is sending some strong messages about its changing relationship with beer. This past week brought a one-two punch of news stories illustrating the beginning of change.

First was the story about the UW’s ire with the Budweiser folks, for putting out “fan cans” of Bud Light in red-and-white cans. The brass in Bascom Hall said it created an unsanctioned association between the university and Bud Light and demanded that it be pulled off the store shelves.

The folks at the big brewery pointed out they’ve been selling their product in red-and-white packages all over the world for many years, but said they would end the promotion soon.

Maybe the legal eagles over on campus should go after the Coke folks, too, since they’ve also been selling products in red and white packages for a long time.

Then came the news that the UW has ended its long-standing deal with Miller and Bud for advertising during Badgers sports broadcasts. Ouch! There goes about a half a million bucks in revenue. The jock department, of course, fought against the move, but Biddy put her foot down and said “NO”. After the Chancellor made it final, the boys over on Monroe Street said they’d step up and take one for the team.

King Barry was grousing on TV last night about how his opinion makes no difference, and started talking about raising ticket prices. What’s the matter, Mr. Alvarez - no confidence that the broadcasts of your athletic products aren’t good enough to attract new sponsors to fill the hole left by the breweries? Or is this just an excuse to raise ticket prices, since the football product last year was not up to the standards he set.

For some time, the “fun police” over at the UW have pointed out that it seems disingenuous at best to preach about the evils and dangers of binge drinking, and then accepting all the revenue from the various beer deals.

As far as I’m concerned, saying that beer causes binge drinking is sort of like saying gasoline causes arson. There’s a relationship, but it’s not causative.

Drinking is nearly universal on the big campus here, and binge drinking has become far too widespread. Hoisting a few is deeply woven into the fabric of life in Wisconsin, and young folks often carry that concept to excess. Any cop on the street will tell you binge drinking is behind a whole slew of other problems.

The culture is beginning to change here in Wisconsin. Attitudes toward drunken driving are slowly starting to harden. The damage alcohol abuse does to families and society is now being exposed more than ever. Our institutions reflect our culture, and the UW is making some hard decisions about its image, and its role in guiding our young people.

Change never comes easy, and they’re not going it cold turkey, but now it’s evident the relationship between beer and the UW is not what it used to be.


  1. There is never 'Too Much Repression.'
    The UW is a massive bureaucracy that deals with massive insurgent populations that have to be immiserated into the uniformity of the corporate system.
    I notice you point out that the blame is not placed on the product but on the packaging.

  2. Maybe they can get Trojan and Red Bull to buy ad time to replace the beer spots.

  3. I have my doubts that this will last... A cool half million is tough to turn one's nose up at for long.