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F1 Heineken tie-up sparks alcohol ad row

Dutch brewer Heineken has become a global partner to Formula One, sparking renewed calls to ban alcohol advertising at sporting events from European lobbyists.

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance network Eurocare has called for a ban on alcohol advertising at sporting events

The multi-year partnership will start with the newly renamed Formula 1 Gran Premio Heineken D’Italia 2016 in Monza. From the 2017 F1 season onwards, Heineken will be the F1 event title partner of three Formula 1 Grands Prix. Heineken will be the exclusive Global Beer Partner of Formula 1 and will have substantial pouring, activation and access rights across the majority of F1 Events in the FIA Formula One World Championship, however the brand will not be visible on any F1 cars.

“F1 represents a unique opportunity for Heineken to engage with existing and potential consumers in important growth markets,” said Gianluca Di Tondo, senior brand director of Heineken. “F1 delivers in three specific areas; strong commercial opportunities; expansion of our responsible drinking platform in new and innovative ways; and enabling skill transfers between F1 and our employees.”

The deal, while not confirmed, is estimated to be worth $150 million to F1 over five years. However its involvement with Formula One racing has led to renewed calls from European campaigners for a ban on alcohol advertising in the sport.

As reported by Reuters, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance network Eurocare said on Tuesday it wanted stronger legislation from the European Commission and member states on alcohol advertising within not only motor sports, but all sporting events. “F1 should ask themselves if they want to be a motorsport or an alcohol brand event,” said Eurocare general secretary Mariann Skar in a statement. “If both the sport and the drinks producers want to be seen as responsible industries, they should stop this deal and move away from alcohol sponsorship in F1.”

Eurocare also published a letter sent to Jean Todt, the president of Formula One’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

“We would like to remind you that drink driving is one of the key killers on the road,” it read. “It is therefore worrying that F1 is now bringing the link between alcohol brands and motor sport even closer together. We would like to request that you take this issue seriously and consider moving away from these sponsorship agreements, as you did with tobacco sponsorship.”

Amid criticism, Heineken has said it would use the platform to also promote F1’s “Open your World” and “If You Drive, Never Drink” campaign, with activations including F1 circuit branding, TV commercials, digital activations, live fan experiences and events, dedicated PR initiatives, and packaging/point-of-sale activations. David Coulthard and Sir Jackie Stewart will be ambassadors for the respective campaigns.

Heineken already invests 10% of its global media spend on responsible alcohol consumption campaigns such as Moderate Drinkers Wanted and Dance More Drink Slow. The message is also delivered through sponsorship platforms such as UEFA Champions League and Rugby World Cup where one third of all pitch side advertising is dedicated to the message.

Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One group said: “Some time ago I started a ‘Think Before You Drive’ campaign at F1 Events. I am pleased that this important initiative now has such strong and committed support from Heineken, through its “If You Drive, Never Drink” campaign. We will now evolve and reinforce these messages in a way that reflects the Heineken personality and values.”

Formula One has long been the focus of campaigns seeking to ban alcohol-related advertising. France already bans alcohol sponsorship of alcohol at sporting events, with tobacco companies, which were once big backers of Formula One, banned from the sport in 2008. The sport was estimated to have lost £149 million in sponsorship following the ban, which the industry voluntarily agreed to in 2007, before being banned completely by the EU in 2011.

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