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New NFL ad policy: Energy drinks out, whiskey in

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media after an NFL owners meeting, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media after an NFL owners meeting, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Paul Beaty, AP

The National Football League lifted its ban on game-time TV ads for liquor recently while also clarifying what is acceptable and not acceptable for its commercials. Good luck trying to make sense out of that.

For the record, liquor ads were banned from TV entirely until 1996. The NFL continued to ban them, with the exception of beer ads, until this year.

Why end the ban now, you might reasonably wonder?

Is it because alcohol-related problems have been almost eradicated in the U.S.? Not if you believe The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which reported:

— 26.9 percent of those 18 years old and older engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

— 15.1 million adults aged 18 or older have alcohol use disorder.

— an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

— Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities account for almost one-third of driving fatalities.

— Alcohol misuse cost the United State about $249 billion in 2010.

All this notwithstanding, beginning next season the NFL will give alcohol a huge platform to shill vodka, whiskey, gin, etc.

But back to the question: Why lift the ban on liquor ads now? There can be only one answer: Greed. There’s more money to be made and the NFL, whose revenues are expected to reach $14 billion this year, can never get enough, whatever the consequences. Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league’s goal is $25 billion by 2027. (Remember what Mark Cuban, the NBA owner, said about the NFL being “hoggy” and “greedy”?)

In a league where owners are willing to turn their backs on longtime loyal fans in Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego, they’re going to have no compunction about squeezing a few more dollars out of the alcohol industry, whatever the moral considerations. More consumers are turning away from the beer industry — pro sports’ best bud — to consume more liquor. For seven straight years, liquor sales have cut into beer’s market share. Liquor sales increased 4.5 percent in 2016 to $25 billion. The liquor industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising.

The NFL wants a cut of it.

The league apparently tries to make itself feel better about its revised advertising policy by making the following stipulations for liquor ads:

— A limit of four 30-second ads per game.

— A limit of two ads per quarter or during halftime.

— The ads can’t have a football theme or target underage drinkers.

— The ads must include a “prominent social responsibility message.”

Prominent social responsibility message? This means … what? Tell people to pick up their litter? Use deodorant? Preserve the spotted owl? Or does it mean they will require one of those “drink responsibly” taglines at the end of the ad, which is PC for “don’t drink too much?”

I don’t know about you, but this last item always struck me as more than a little strange since a) the purpose of ads is to get people to drink more, and b) anyone who has had several drinks is not in a good position to decide what “responsibly” means.

And, by the way, how do advertisers not target underage drinkers? Tell them to leave the room? Good thing kids don’t watch football games. (Anyway, the whole idea was pretty much blown up when Peyton Manning decided to shill for beer during his post Super Bowl interview in 2016, right there on national TV in the middle of what was supposed to be a sentimental bon voyage.)

There are other inconsistent stipulations in the NFL ban. According to the Wall Street Journal, the NFL will continue to ban ads for energy drinks and supplements (but not liquor and beer); it will ban birth control products, but not erectile dysfunction products; it will ban ads for anything related to gambling (hotels, casinos), but not for the lottery or dog/horse racing. It also will allow ads for violent movies and video games (subject to review), even though the NFL product features its share of mayhem.

So: Caffeine — not OK; Alcohol — A-OK. Energy drinks out; whiskey in. Got it?