With the start of March Madness, church leaders are calling out the NCAA and college presidents for promoting alcohol consumption with sports viewing.
Millions of Americans, particularly young people, will be glued to the T.V. over the next few weeks watching the college men's basketball tournament. But they'll be viewing a little more than hoop action.
Beer ads are commonly shown when the game is on.
"The alcohol industry relies on advertising at college-level sports to encourage young people to become lifelong customers, some who become alcoholics," said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, according to the United Methodist News Service.
The Methodist agency last year signed a letter that asked members of Congress to consider an increase in federal alcohol excise taxes. Alcohol use, the letter stated, is the third leading cause of early mortality in the country.
On a more grassroots level, the agency has been supporting the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV which is part of a comprehensive national effort to prevent underage drinking and excessive drinking.
According to the campaign, youth see more commercials for beer than for juice, gum, chips, sneakers, skin care products, and jeans. In 2006, Anheuser-Busch alone spent over $252 million to advertise during televised sporting events – some 77.3 percent of its total ad spending that year.
"Today, the abundance of alcohol ads on television makes it nearly impossible to watch a televised sports event without seeing slick beer ads that attract youth attention, cultivate positive attitudes toward drinking, and mask the many risks related to underage – and adult – consumption of alcohol," the campaign states.
Repeated exposure to alcohol advertising influences youths' decisions to drink and to participate in more frequent and heavier drinking, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
Moreover, alcohol is a significant factor in the four leading causes of death among persons ages 10 to 24, including motor-vehicle crashes.
The campaign says curbing alcohol advertising on televised sports is one critical step in addressing the problem of alcohol use by young people as well as the problem of excessive drinking among adults.
"People should be aware of the way in which NCAA and beer producers exploit a youthful, healthful, action-packed activity to sell beer and to promote beer to an audience that includes a large number of impressionable young people," said George A. Hacker, director of the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, according to UMNS.
Some 372 schools and 16 conferences have signed a pledge with the campaign to eliminate alcohol ads from college sports.
The NCAA games drew to CBS 10.3 million viewers (18-49 demographic) Thursday night.