European lobby group calls for end of alcohol sponsorship in F1

A European lobby group has called for the end of alcohol sponsorship in Formula One, issuing an open letter to FIA president Jean Todt.

According to the letter published by the European Alcohol Policy Alliance, drunk driving accounted for 6,500 deaths (or 25 percent of road deaths) across Europe in 2010. Based on those numbers, and drawing a direct (if rather tenuous) correlation between drunk driving and alcohol sponsorship in motor racing, the organization known as Eurocare is calling on the FIA to ban liquor companies from sponsoring F1 teams and events.

Currently the Williams team is sponsored by Martini, Force India by Smirnoff and McLaren by Johnnie Walker.

Currently the Williams team is sponsored by Martini, Force India by Smirnoff and McLaren by Johnnie Walker, which was also recently named the official whisky of the sport. Out of deference to (if not compliance with) the ban on consuming alcohol under Sharia law, most teams remove any liquor logos when racing in Muslim countries (where the champagne traditionally sprayed and drank on the podium is also typically replaced with a non-alcoholic substitute like rosewater).

Banning those and other liquor brands from sponsoring the teams and advertising track-side at races would come at a rather difficult time for the series in which several teams are struggling financially. Eurocare addresses the issue, noting that F1 did recover from the ban of tobacco advertising, which was previously a huge contributor to the bottom line of teams like Ferrari (Marlboro), McLaren (West), Lotus (JPS) and Honda (British American Tobacco).

A recent op-ed similarly called for the end of sponsorship by energy drink brands like Red Bull and Monster Energy, which support countless racing teams across numerous racing disciplines.

Of course Formula One isn't the only form of motorsport where alcohol advertising is prevalent. NASCAR and IndyCar have had checkered histories with alcohol companies advertising in their series, the former's second-tier championship famously having been known as the Busch Series after the beer label – while the top-tier series was known as the Winston Cup after RJ Reynolds cigarette brand. Both series have since been renamed for less controversial sponsors Nationwide Insurance and Sprint telecom. The American Le Mans Series was similarly title-sponsored by Patrón tequila before it merged into the United SportsCar Championship, sponsored by watchmaker Tudor.
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Monsieur Jean Todt
Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
8 place de la Concorde
75008 Paris

Brussels 12.11.2014

OPEN LETTER RE: Alcohol Advertising in Formula One: An Irresponsible Message

I am writing to you on behalf of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare), an alliance of 57 public health organisations from 25 European countries working on the prevention and reduction of alcohol related harm. Improving road safety is one of the topics we are promoting. Drink driving is linked to 25% of the road deaths in Europe and 6,500 deaths could be saved in 2010 if drivers had obeyed the law on drink driving(i).

The reason why we are writing to you is to address our great concern regarding alcohol sponsorship of Formula One. On the 9th November the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix was broadcasted widely on several TV channels in Europe and the alcohol advertising through sponsorship was very visible during the whole day. 2014 has been a strong season for alcohol sponsorship in Formula One. The alcohol producer Smirnoff(ii) now joins Johnny Walker (McLaren)iii and Martini (Williams)iv as another major alcohol brand in the sport after signing the sponsorship agreement with Force India (May 2014).

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance is deeply concerned of the heavy marketing exercise seen in Formula One and is therefore requesting an urgent change. The association between drinking and driving should clearly be seen as a troubling one.

Alcohol sponsorship is big business in Europe. The alcohol industry spends billions every year marketing its products, and over £800 million a year in the UK alone.v However, the very nature of such sponsorship in Formula One is leaving an uneasy feeling for an increasing number of people.

Sponsorship of sporting events such as Formula One is a prominent marketing tool used by the alcohol industry to promote their products. Sponsorship of this type operates differently from conventional advertising, as its means of persuasion is indirect and implicit. It allows companies not only to create and reinforce awareness, but also to generate positive associations between the sport and the product. The intended result is that the sponsorship creates a link between the company and a highly valued event or occasion in the minds of consumers; a process known as "brand transfer." It is this transfer that is particularly troubling.

Allowing alcohol sponsorship in Formula One seems to contradict many official guidelines for the marketing of alcohol. It runs against the EU Directive (2010/13/EU) which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving. Moreover, the current association between alcohol and driving does not seem to fall in the category of "the widespread promotion of responsible drinking messages", part of the mission supported by the alcohol industry itself.

Alcohol companies often claim that their campaigns are merely the result of a competition between producers for market share and brand loyalty. However a ban on Formula One alcohol sponsorship would only create a level playing field for those in the industry. There is wide spread agreement about the inappropriateness of the alcohol industry sponsoring Formula One.

A common argument made against imposing restrictions on alcohol sponsorships is that it could deal a significant financial blow to the sport. Yet such concerns are largely unjustified. When the tobacco industry was edged out of snooker, horse racing and even Formula One itself, the sports made successful shifts and alternative sponsors emerged. Despite fear-mongering concerning the withdrawal of tobacco sponsorship from Formula One, claiming that the new regulations could be fatal for the sport, nothing of the sort has emerged.

When considering the continued destructive prevalence of drink-driving, permitting the mixed messages presented in alcohol sponsorship of Formula One seems ever more inappropriate given the total viewing audience of 500 million. The sport would not collapse overnight as a result and would constitute a sincere effort to severe the link between drinking and driving. Furthermore, a ban on alcohol sponsorship in Formula One is not a radical departure from previous policy, and rather is a reform in sync with current national efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance is requesting an end to alcohol sponsorship in Formula One and expects rapid action from your side. We are happy to meet to discuss this further with you.


Mariann Skar
Secretary General European Alcohol Policy Alliance

Copy: Chief Executive Bernard Ecclestone, Formula One
Vice President Andrus Ansip, European Commission Digital Agenda
Director General Robert Madelin, European Commission DG Connect
Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis , European Commission Health and Food Safety
Director General Ladislav Miko, European Commission DG Sanco
Director General Margaret Chan, World Health Organisation
Head of Unit Vladimir B Poznyak, World Health Organisation

i ETSC (2012): Drink Driving: Towards Zero Tolerance
v Gordon, R. and Harris, F. (2009) Critical social marketing: Assessing the impact of alcohol marketing on youth drinking, International Journal of Non Profit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 15(3), pp265‐275

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