The famous Clemson Tiger Paw could soon make its way onto advertisements for beer.
During the university’s quarterly Board of Trustees meeting this month, the trustees agreed to allow JMI Sports LLC, the official multimedia rights and corporate sponsorship partner for Clemson, to explore using the university’s trademarks in conjunction with a “drink responsibly alcohol related athletics sponsorship.”
In the past, the university has partnered with MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch for radio ads related to responsible drinking, but this will be the first time the school’s visual marks could be put to use.
Now, JMI Sports has university permission to talk to “branded malt beverage” companies to see if any want to strike a deal to use the Tiger Paw on ads, with the requirement that an educational “drink responsibly” message is visible, according to the plan outlined by JMI Sports.
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Dan Radakovich, Clemson’s athletics director, is hopeful that a partnership will emerge which is beneficial to the university, the beverage company and JMI.
“I think in the collegiate landscape there are an awful lot of these partnerships at very fine institutions across the country,” Radakovich said. “They have been done very well and very tastefully at other other institutions.”
Radakovich emphasized that exploring a deal for advertising is “in no way a step toward selling alcohol in the stadium.”
Tom Stultz, the president of JMI Sports, said that no alcohol ads will be targeted to people under the age of 21.
He said JMI has shared examples with Clemson of what other universities have done. He said the landscape is broad.
“Some schools are very aggressive in what they allow, some are more restrictive,” Stultz said. “My sense is Clemson will take a very conservative approach to this.”
Stultz said that marketing of alcohol alongside Clemson branding is happening anyhow and that a sponsorship deal is an opportunity for the university to clean up and control messaging. He said if you go into bars today, there may be no separation between Clemson paraphernalia and beer ads.
Stultz said the company is just beginning to gauge interest from brands, but a potential deal could come as soon as the postseason.
Alcohol falls under a category of prohibited marketing items in the university’s campus marketing policy, which is why JMI needed the trustees’ approval to proceed. According to the policy, “as Clemson is an academic institution, beer, wine, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, religious, call to action gambling or political advertisements will require rigorous review and like all advertising (athletic or campus wide) will require the prior written consent of Clemson.”
Prohibited Marketing - as Clemson is an academic institution, beer, wine, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, religious, call to action gambling or political advertisements will require rigorous review and like all advertising (athletic or campus wide) will require the prior written consent of Clemson. If permission is granted, the beer advertisements must be educational and branding advertisements and if gambling advertisement is approved, they must highlight the educational component of the SC Educational Lottery. In each case, there shall be no call to action advertisements. -Clemson Total Campus Marketing policy
Approving a potential alcohol branding deal was the only split vote of the full board meeting this month. Trustees Ronald Lee and Robert Peeler voted against the proposal, and William Smith recused himself because a family member works for JMI Sports.
JMI Sports did not meet with the trustees but presented the idea to the athletic department.
During one of the trustee meetings, Mark Land, Clemson’s vice president of university relations, described the Tiger Paw logo as “the most valuable physical manifestation of our visual brand presence.”
Stultz said that there are not a lot of ways to generate large amounts of additional revenue for the Clemson brand, but expanding into this category is one option.
In 2016, the university awarded JMI a seven-year contract valued at $68 million to sell Clemson sponsorships and multimedia rights. Through the deal, Clemson is guaranteed $45 million in revenue from JMI. Any revenue that exceeds the guaranteed amount and JMI’s costs and profit margin are then split between the company and the university.
Almeda Jacks, Clemson’s vice president for student affairs, said some of that funding would be used to run alcohol education programs for incoming students and student organizations. She said they would put together a comprehensive education plan and ask JMI to fund it for five years.
“We fund a lot, but this would let us do more,” Jacks said.
In May 2017, Clemson passed a strategic plan for “alcohol and other drugs.” According to data in the plan, in 2016, 34.7 percent of students reported having five or more drinks within the previous two weeks. By 2020, the university aims to reduce the percentage to 31.7 percent.
In a 2014 study, 58 percent of Clemson freshmen reported drinking within the previous 30 days.
Drinking is a problem beyond the university.
For Pickens County, 44 percent of all fatal crashes in 2017 involved alcohol, according to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. The department estimates that 85 South Carolinians under 21 die each year from alcohol use.
“If people were going to buy beer and there was a Tiger Paw on a six-pack, I would be concerned, but that will not be the case,” Jacks said of the new sponsorship opportunity.
Clemson will still have final say over any ads.
Any potential alcohol sponsorship deal would likely be for longer than a year, but not more than six years, because JMI does not typically sign a deal that lasts longer than its contract with the university.
“In all the categories we try to find long-term partners that want to buy into what the university is trying to accomplish,” Stultz said.