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Contracts Corner: Sponsorship Agreements

Sponsorships continue to be one of the alcohol beverage industry’s primary methods of promoting brands to drinkers. In professional sports alone, alcohol beverage brands contributed $480 million in sponsorship revenue across the four major professional sports leagues during the 2022–2023 season, according to a SponsorUnited study. As suppliers look to better target audiences via sponsorships, it’s important for industry members looking to enter into a sponsorship relationship, as well as those hoping to engage an alcohol beverage brand as a sponsor, to understand how the regulation of the alcohol industry impacts these relationships and the contracts that solidify them.

The Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act prohibits an industry member (a supplier or wholesaler of alcohol beverages) from inducing a retailer to purchase a particular product to the exclusion of competitive products. See 27 U.S.C. § 205. An “inducement” may include a partial ownership stake in a retailer, money, free goods or other “things of value” provided to a retailer. The “exclusion” element requires the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to show a potential real-world impact (i.e., the inducement results in a retailer purchasing less of a competing product than it otherwise would have, and the inducement places or threatens to place a retailer’s independence at risk) before a violation is found.

Sponsorships in other industries often involve a commitment that the brand paying sponsorship dollars will be the exclusive offering of a team, venue or event, or at a minimum, require that a particular brand be offered or available to consumers as part of the sponsor benefits. In the alcohol space, an industry member paying a retailer in exchange for the retailer’s commitment to serve the supplier’s brand(s) of alcohol beverages, often called “pouring rights,” typically satisfies both elements necessary to find a violation of the FAA Act: that the sponsorship fee is a thing of value, and it leads to the exclusion of competitive products.

Sponsor benefits should not include a commitment that a retailer purchase or not purchase a particular brand or brands of alcoholic beverages. Because of restrictions on the flow of money from suppliers to retailers, most sponsorship agreements involving an alcohol brand are between an industry member and a third-party unlicensed entity, not the entity holding the license to sell or serve alcohol at an event or within a venue. However, conduct that is prohibited for an industry member to engage in directly is also prohibited if undertaken indirectly using a third party as a pass-through entity. Accordingly, the entity selling sponsorship rights should represent and warrant the following:

  • It does not hold a license to sell alcohol at retail.
  • The funds paid under the terms of the agreement will not be passed on to a retailer.
  • Nothing contained in the agreement is intended to require or prohibit any retailer or concessionaire from purchasing or not purchasing a particular brand or brands of alcoholic beverages.

As we support clients in negotiating sponsorship agreements and understanding the scope of sponsor [...]

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Winds of Change Blowing for Craft Brewers

For those who follow developments in the law and craft brewing with equal passion, every year has its share of substantial issues. This year has been no exception, with a pending Supreme Court case; a substantial upswing in federal trade practice enforcement activity; a massive rewrite of US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling and advertising regulations; and prospects for extending the biggest cuts in the excise tax on beer since the repeal of Prohibition.

As these developments play out over the next year, we may see changes translate into the marketplace. Find out what you can expect.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2019.




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Five Issues That Impact Craft Brewers

In an article published by The New Brewer, Marc Sorini discusses five issues most likely to have a meaningful impact on craft brewers in the coming years, including:

  1. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act’s (CBMTRA) new tiered excise tax rate structure, its extending benefits to foreign producers, and its authorization for brewers to transfer beer in bond between breweries of different ownership.
  2. The Sixth Circuit’s published opinion in Byrd v. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, affirming a decision finding that the “durational-residency” requirements imposed by Tennessee law for alcohol beverage retail licensees are unconstitutional under the “dormant” Commerce Clause.
  3. The TTB’s creation of a new unit within its Trade Investigations Division to focus on trade practice enforcement.
  4. The opinion in Mission Beverage Co. v. Pabst Brewing Co. from the California Court of Appeals, which found that “an existing distributor’s receipt of the ‘fair market value of the affected distribution rights’ under [the California statute] does not necessarily make that distributor whole.”
  5. The US District Court for the Northern District of California’s decision in a putative class action alleging that the labeling and marketing of a successful California-based craft brewery was false and deceptive.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2018.




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USDA Publishes Proposed GMO Labeling Regulations

The Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a proposed rule containing regulations to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. See 83 Fed. Reg. 19860 (May 4, 2018). The proposed regulations would govern the labeling of raw agricultural products and packaged foods whose labeling is governed the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act, including wines below 7 percent alcohol by volume and non-malt beer (e.g., “hard seltzers”). The proposed regulations would not directly apply to alcohol beverages whose labeling is governed by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, including all distilled spirits, wines containing 7 percent alcohol by volume or greater, and beer containing malted barley and hops. Nevertheless, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau may look to the bioengineered food disclosure regulations as persuasive guidance in developing its own policies towards the disclosure of bioengineered ingredients (often called “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs”). (more…)




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District Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Deception Claims against Brewer

On January 17, 2018, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a decision in yet another putative class action alleging that a beer brand’s labeling and marketing was false and deceptive. In this case, the defendant is The 21st Amendment Brewery Café (21st Amendment), a successful California-based craft brewery. See Peacock v. The 21st Amendment Brewery Café, LLC, N.D. Cal. No. 17-cv-01918-JST (Jan. 17, 2018). (more…)




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TTB Updates to the Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

Last week in its regular newsletter, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced updates to the Fall edition of the semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda). Like other federal agencies, TTB uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects.

In the updated agenda, a few new items have been added, and many expected publication dates of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) and Final Rules have changed. As always, readers should recognize that TTB rulemaking moves very slowly, and the Agency often does not meet the aspirational dates published in the Regulatory Agenda. (more…)




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The Intersection of Spirits and Marijuana

In the past three years, TTB has approved an increasing number of certificate of label approvals (“COLA”) for hemp-flavored vodka, from Mill Six’s hemp, white tea and ginger flavored vodka to Olde Imperial Mystic’s hemp infused vodka. Distillers have designed labels with green smoke-like images and psychedelic sixties-style lettering to hint at their cultural connection to marijuana. As more states have legalized recreational cannabis, distillers have been thinking more ambitiously about combining their distilling business with one or more aspects of the emerging marijuana business.

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Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017.




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TTB Issues Guidance on Application of Consignment Sales Regulations to Freshness Dating and Returns from Retailers

On September 29, 2017, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued Ruling 2017-2, which updates and supersedes older agency guidance on allowable returns of beer and malt beverage products that contain “pull dates” or other indicators of product freshness.

The Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act includes a general prohibition on “consignment sales,” 27 USC 205(d). Congress believed that all transactions should be “bona fide” sales. Id. The intent was to prevent a wide range of unscrupulous practices that might occur if manufacturers and wholesalers furnishing alcohol beverages to retailers on consignment or with the right of return.

The FAA Act prohibition on consignment sales does not apply to “transactions involving solely the bona fide return of merchandise for ordinary and usual commercial reasons arising after the merchandise has been sold.” Id. TTB regulations provide an extensive list of reasons that a manufacturer or wholesaler can accept returns. 27 CFR, Part 11, Subpart D. (more…)




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Category Management Practices

Today’s off-premises retail landscape is dominated by large chains that rely on practices generally known as category management to maximize the profitability of their stores. Some of the activities falling under the category management umbrella require close interaction between the retailer and the producers, importers, or distributors supplying them product. As a result of this interaction, the federal Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) last year issued a ruling indicating that industry members’ participation in category management activities could result in a violation of the tied-house provision of the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act and the TTB’s corresponding tied-house regulations.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, September/October 2017.




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