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The beer cans feature the Green Wave of Tulane University, scowling and brandishing a megaphone.

That's new Green Wave Beer, named after Tulane's athletic teams -- the result of a partnership between Tulane and a local brewing company the school announced last month.

Beer and college football long have been linked, but deals such as Tulane's are on the rise as campuses cozy up to brewers. Universities, seeing the potential for profit, are starting to agree to beer sponsorships and relax their stringent alcohol policies in many stadiums.

"There is movement all over the country for universities to start selling alcohol and accepting alcohol companies' sponsorships," said David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

As nationwide sales have stagnated, brewers are targeting college sports fans, evoking school spirit in ad campaigns with mascots and a university's colors -- even in the brands of beer they offer. But the campaign comes as some researchers warn exposure to beer ads risks undercutting efforts to discourage binge drinking and underage alcohol consumption.

"Studies have consistently found that the more exposure students have to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking," Jernigan said. "This is further embedding and normalizing alcohol use on college campuses."

Still, more campuses are stepping up:

University of Houston. Last month, the school named Bud Light its official beer, making it available for sale during athletic events. The beer's parent company, Anheuser-Busch, has the rights to use elements of the university's brand in its marketing.

University of Texas. The Austin campus announced a partnership with Corona in July, the first for that beer company with a university. The campaign -- "Horns up, Limes In!" -- will include a special "Corona Beach House" tailgate area located near the university's football stadium where fans can take photos with Corona's Adirondack chair.

From ABUniversity of Texas Announces Partnership with Corona

Louisiana State University. Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge makes LSU's beer, Bayou Bengal Lager. "It's done great" since being introduced last year, says William McGehee, co-founder of the brewery. "LSU fans are very passionate. It's a beer they can celebrate their school with."

From ABLSU Looks to Open Beer Garden at Tiger Stadium

But not without controversy. A state legislator introduced a bill, later withdrawn, to stop such deals last April. Rep. Cedric Glover wrote in a letter obtained by The Advocate of Baton Rouge that he believes the arrangements foster alcohol abuse even though LSU's president says they rake in 15% from sale of licensed beer.

Brewers are making inroads inside the stadiums, too. The number of universities allowing alcohol at sporting events has grown. Recently, Purdue University, Marshall University and California State University-Fresno have introduced or expanded sales in their sports arenas.

The growth in alcoholic beverage-university partnerships reflects brewers' desire for expansion at a time when beer sales growth isn't keeping up with spirits and wine, particularly among Millennials.

According to the Beverage Information Group, beer sales by volume at U.S. bars and restaurants declined 3% from 2014 to 2015. U.S. beer volume sales declined 1.2% through the first 50 days of 2017, according to market research firm IRI Worldwide.

Millennials of legal age account for 35% of U.S. beer consumption and 32% of spirits consumption, according to Nielson.

"If (companies) can get to you in college and build a relationship, that relationship will typically last a long time," says Gary Wilcox, a professor who researches alcohol advertising at Texas.

But universities' growing affinity for beer brands -- whether in stadium sales, exclusive brews or branding rights -- has raised concerns among health experts who study how college students drink.

The 2015 Monitoring the Future study, which tracked the drug habits of children and young adults, found 63.2% of college students had reported drinking alcoholic beverages in the prior month.

A separate report found 1.2 million students drink on an average day.

Universities insist the focus is on fans -- including alumni -- not students, and on responsible consumption.

At Tulane, Nathan Hubbell, general manager of sports marketing, says the booze is marketed towards older-season ticket holders and donors, as well as fans of coaches' radio shows, who tend to be 21 or older.

"This isn't something we're advertising to students," Hubbell said. "It's not like we're going to stick (beer) behind the student section at the stadium."

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August 16, 2017


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