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NBA to Allow Courtside Liquor Ads


The National Basketball Association (NBA) is reversing a longtime ban and will allow hard-liquor firms to place courtside ads during games, part of a trend toward more liberal ad policies as sports firms face a worsening economy.

Ad Age reported Jan. 29 that major sports leagues are revisiting their policies on accepting ads from liquor companies and the gambling industry. The NBA is now allowing individual teams to enter into ad deals with liquor firms for courtside ads, and could also explore a league-wide sponsorship deal.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball recently allowed the Milwaukee Brewers to sign up a local casino as a major sponsor. Ads for the Potawatomi Bingo Casino will now appear on the team's TV, radio and print ads, dugouts, tickets, and elsewhere. That's a big step for a sport that has been burned by gambling scandals during its long history.

“I think this is just the beginning in terms of creative marketing by the sports leagues,” said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University. “A lot of traditional sponsors are hitting hard times.”

“We just had some owners meetings in Phoenix and certainly there was some sobering news; clubs are bracing for declines in revenue,” said Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president of business operations.

“We have to be respectful of our brand, respectful of the Major League Baseball brand, and understand we're family-focused entertainment. But we also have to expand our reach and tap into unconventional sources of income.”

Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR also allow liquor ads, but the National Football League does not. The NBA dropped its ban earlier this month at an annual sales and marketing meeting. George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called the NBA's decision an “act of desperation.”

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