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Neil Miller - NZ

Olympics offers Heineken, ‘British bitter’ and ‘cider’

Friday, April 27, 2012
Mr Roger Protz is one of the greatest beer writers in the world today.  My zymurgical library contains a large number of books with his name on the cover and his is always the first column I read when the CAMRA magazine arrives.  Unfailing polite and proper in real life, Roger is a veritable tiger on the keyboard – always opinionated and well-informed.  He recently directed his attention towards the choice of beer which will be available at the London Olympics which is less than 100 days away.  More specifically, he highlighted the lack of choice in beer for Olympic patrons.

Here are the edited highlights but be sure to read the whole article:

“The 2012 Olympics, a showcase for London and the rest of Britain, will be dominated by one beer brand – Heineken lager brewed in the Netherlands…  Heineken has “sole pouring rights” at Olympic events…   The package gives Heineken the rights to also sell two other brands in its portfolio, John Smith’s Smoothflow and Strongbow cider – but neither of the brands can be named.  John Smith’s will be labelled “British Bitter” and Strongbow will be called “Cider”.

At Lord’s where Marston’s has the beer concession to sell Pedigree Bitter and is the official sponsor of the England cricket team, handpumps will be removed while the archery competition takes place during the Olympics.  Portraits of cricketer Matthew Hoggard, Marston’s “beer ambassador”, will be covered up.

A spokesman for the London 2012 Organising Committee, said: “Getting sponsorship for the games is a tough job and exclusive rights have to be offered.”  He added that sponsors’ rights had to be protected.  The name “Olympics” cannot be used by other companies or organisations and he said that if pubs or the Campaign for Real Ale attempted to stage “Olympic beer festivals” they would be prevented from using the name.

Mike Benner, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale, said: “Britain’s brewing industry is revered the world over, not least at a time when there are now more small breweries in operation than at any time since World War Two.  As a grand spectacle showcasing everything that is great about Great Britain, it is hugely disappointing that attendees inside Olympic venues won’t have access to a range of British real ale.  Such a move represents a major missed opportunity to show off one of Britain’s historic industries.”

If that all sounds rather familiar, it should.  New Zealand had a very similar experience with the Rugby World Cup last year.  In Beer and Brewer magazine, I wrote:

“The sponsorship arrangement means that at all Rugby World Cup games the choice of beers will be limited to Heineken and Amstel Light.  [DB Managing Director] Mr Blake argues that protecting the significant investment of worldwide sponsors in this way is consistent with other major events around the globe.  [Foreign Minister] Mr McCully said “over the last decade or so it has become a fact of life that in order to secure the hosting rights to major global sporting events such as the RWC, countries must be able to demonstrate an ability to run an event without disruption, and to protect the rights of official sponsors.”

Considerable efforts are made to protect the major sponsors of large sporting events these days.  In New Zealand, this takes the form of the Major Events Management Act which establishes “clean zones” around match venues and provides organisers with a range of powers and penalties to deal with “ambush” marketing. 

Questioned about what would happen to person who went to a game in a Tuatara Brewery t-shirt, Mr Blake stated “so long as it is not part of any formal or informal commercial promotion, there shouldn’t be a problem.”  Mr McCully agreed saying “people are free to choose what they wear to RWC matches, unless their intention in wearing particular clothing is to be noticed advertising or promoting a product or service.  So the odd person wearing a t-shirt with a beer logo on it is fine.  What would cause concern would be a group of people turning up to a stadium together – or sitting together inside the ground – wearing the same t-shirts displaying a beer logo.  Officers will generally be focussing on large-scale, calculated ambush marketing campaigns by companies that deliberately set out to cash in on the tournament’s high profile without having paid for the right to do so.”

One unusual side-effect of the Major Events Management Legislation is that bars and pubs will be unable to say they are showing Rugby World Cup games.  This is because they are not official partners with the event and the legislation does not allow commercial enterprises to “associate” themselves with the World Cup in any way.  Consequently, there is a long list of words and emblems that venues, companies and shops cannot use.  The result is that a bar could say they were showing Scotland play Romania at rugby on 10 September at 1pm, but they could not say it was an RWC match.  This strange situation may confuse many visitors and a not inconsiderable number of locals.  The only reason this article can talk freely about the Cup is that media comment is specifically exempted from the restrictions.”

It is hard to imagine tasting a craft beer at any major sporting event if this model continues.


Neil Miller


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