The TV networks, which have long resisted accepting hard-liquor advertising, don’t plan to reverse their voluntary ban on the ads even though NASCAR announced last week that it will allow hard-liquor sponsorships for its tracks and teams.
At the same time, the networks that carry live NASCAR events said they won’t go out of their way to block the hard-liquor images in their coverage of the sport. “Our policy has not changed,” said Mike McCarley, VP of communications and marketing for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “And the way we cover the races won’t change.”
“We have a self-regulating policy where we don’t accept distilled spirits,” said Sal Petruzzi, VP of public relations for Turner Broadcasting. “Our policy has not changed.”
Lou D’Ermilio, senior VP of media relations for Fox Sports, also said his company’s policy wouldn’t be altered. Concerning NASCAR’s move, he added: “It’s something that we don’t have control over.”
Two years ago NBC experimented in airing some commercials during “Saturday Night Live,” but public pressure forced the network to abandon the plan.
The broadcast networks have had a voluntary ban on hard-liquor advertising for over 50 years-even though hard liquor is permitted on TV by federal regulators. Cable networks and local TV stations have aired hard-liquor advertising since the mid 1990s.
Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, said in press reports: “We certainly had conversations with [the networks] and let them know what we were thinking. But the decision as to how they handle it will be up to them.”
NBC said it would continue to refer to cars and drivers either by the name of the driver, the car’s number or in some cases the actual sponsor.
Mr. D’Ermilio said: “We encourage our announcers to refer to the drivers by their names.”
Until last year, the sports trophy for the best driver of the year was called the Winston Cup-a reference to Winston cigarettes that had the sponsorship for three decades. Cigarette and cigar advertising was banned from television and radio in 1971. Still, for years sports announcers have mentioned the “Winston” name on-air in reference to the cup. NASCAR’s trophy is now called the Nextel Cup.
At the same time of the NASCAR announcement, news broke concerning at least two teams contracting or pursuing hard-liquor sponsorships. Diageo’s Crown Royal brand will sponsor a Roush Racing team car next year. Another rumor has the Richard Childress Racing team looking for sponsorship from Jack Daniel’s.
Many current NASCAR car sponsors are also TV advertisers-they include Anheuser-Busch, Home Depot and Viagra.
In the 1990s hard-liquor advertisers pushed to get on network television, claiming a double standard was used by the networks because they sold and aired beer advertising. Advertisers argued that alcohol was the common denominator for both beer and liquor and so liquor makers should be allowed to buy network television.