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Sports and SUDS
William Oscar Johnson
August 08, 1988
The beer business and the sports world have brewed up a potent partnership
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August 08, 1988

Sports And Suds

The beer business and the sports world have brewed up a potent partnership

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THAT GOLDEN BREW

Who gets what after a fan pays $2.50 for a cup of Hudepohl at Riverfront Stadium

20 oz. cup of Hudepohl Beer

$2.50

Cincinnati Sports Service
(Concessionaire)*

$1.38

Reds

54¢

City of Cincinnati

24¢

Taxes

14¢

Distributor

10¢

Brewery's profit

COST OF MAKING BEER

*includes labor, maintenance, insurance, cost of equipment, etc.

You can put it either way. It's beer, beer that makes you want to cheer. Or: It's cheer, cheer, cheer that makes you want a beer. No matter which, you have spoken the one great truth about beer in the U.S. in the waning years of the 20th century: Nothing loves suds like a sports fan loves suds.

This is an indelible fact of contemporary American anthropology. It is a matter of demographic statistics. It is blessed chapter and verse in U.S. brewers' bibles of marketing and advertising. It is the reason that almost every kind of sporting event—from a rinky-dink hometown road race to the Olympic Games—is played out, as often as not, in an environment of beer slogans, beer signs, beer songs and beer salesmanship. And it is the cause of some ugly social problems, which leads some to wonder just what kind of cultural hypocrisy is going on when Americans relentlessly insist on immersing sport—our most wholesome, most admired, even (sometimes) most heroic institution—in a sea of intoxicating drink.

Whatever angle you view it from, beer and sport have come to be as inseparable in the American lexicon as mom and apple pie, God and country, ham and eggs, Jack and Jill and, of course, suds and Spuds. This wasn't always so. Beer has come a long way, through ferment of time and foam of tide, to get to its ringside seat as U.S. sport's No. 1 corporate team sponsor, media advertiser, event underwriter, cheerleader, troublemaker, thirst quencher and life-support system.

THE THREE-HEADED BEER

When consumed in the ballparks, stadiums and arenas of America in the 1980s, beer means three things: profit, fun and trouble. Unfortunately, you can't have the first two without the third, and there lies the dilemma.

Take the Cincinnati Reds baseball club, that venerable 19th-century institution residing in one of the world's great brewing cities. Last season the Reds sold 12,610 half-barrels and 35,365 cases of beer, which works out to nearly a pint for every man, woman and child among the two million plus who attended the 81 Reds games played in Riverfront Stadium. Total sales, after taxes, for beer (and a tiny bit of liquor) came to $4,635,514. Profit? As with nearly all professional teams, the ball club shares the revenues with stadium concessionaires: the Reds get 33% (and give 10% to the city), meaning a neat take of $1,006,000 plus for the club.

And fun? Well, there's the annual and hugely popular Relief Pitcher Night (the first 20,000 people through the turnstiles get free beer pitchers with four tumblers inside) sponsored by sturdy old Hudepohl-Schoenling beer, which is made by the last of the 36 breweries that produced suds in Cincinnati before Prohibition.

And trouble? A few months ago, on April 30, 41,032 baseball fans produced one of sport's most memorable mass temper tantrums, turning Riverfront Stadium into a garbage dump and forcing an umpire to flee the field. Later, it was quite properly pointed out that the catalyst for the riot was not a gang of beer-soaked louts but an enraged Pete Rose, who was presumably dead sober. Nevertheless, beer deserved its share of the blame: the melee happened in the ninth inning, when the foam had been flowing for hours (even though the taps were shut off at the top of the ninth), and the crowd's reaction was far out of character for an old baseball town where the fans have been described by A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of the National League, as "enormously knowledgeable and historically civil."

Usually the trouble with beer is neither so massive nor so melodramatic. A short-list compendium of complaints drawn from an unscientific poll of fans produced these facts:

1) Everyone who had ever been a spectator at a sporting event of any kind had, at one time or another, experienced the bellowing of obscenities, racial or religious epithets (not always bellowed), abusive sexual remarks to women in the vicinity, fistfights between strangers and fistfights between friends.

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