in Sport

April 1, 2021

Having a beer at the footy, or a glass of wine at the tennis. The association between having a drink and watching sport is a stereotype that’s strongly baked into Australian sporting culture, and into the economics of sport through sponsorship and advertising.

In the past couple of years, large alcohol companies like CUB as well as independent craft brewers and wineries have been producing a variety of eminently drinkable, and increasingly more accessible, zero-alcohol beer and wine options.

Could wider availability and consumption of ultra-low alcohol alternatives to beer, wine and spirits be a sleeping giant, set to change how fans drink at sport and entertainment events? Will this create a new sponsorship and pourage category for rights holders, and at the same time bring relief from next-day hangovers for sports fans and concert-goers?

Major sports and beer brands have started to shift to promotion of zero-alcohol product lines internationally. For example, Formula 1 races this year are covered in signage and promotion for Heineken 0.0%, and the brand also adorns the UEFA Europa League in Football.

Beer brands such as Samuel Adams in the US promote their zero-alcohol lines as a way to break up a “session” – have a couple of beers with friends while watching the game, but insert a “pacer” zero-alcohol can as a way to keep spending on the brand without over-indulging.

Gemba Insights has started exploring this category and uncovered some signs of a possible sleeping giant among Australian sports fans that are interested in, or are already consuming, zero-alcohol beer and wine.

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We found that:

  • Non-alcoholic beer and wine is still a relative small part of the beverage market, with less than 8% of Australians claiming to have consumed in the past four weeks (compared to almost 50% for regular strength beer and wine and 24% for spirits)
  • But among under 35s, especially in metro areas, non-alcoholic beer consumption is as high as 14% among some segments
  • This translates to increased interest among fans of sports that skew younger – esports, basketball, netball and (perhaps surprisingly) motor sports fans show higher consideration and consumption of the category than Australian Rules, Rugby League or Cricket fans
  • The category is only set to grow as distribution and marketing increases, with the main reason cited for not drinking low-alcohol alternatives being a lack of awareness of it as an option

There are some potential concerns to keep in mind, however.

Normalisation of Drinking

  • There are some concerns around the accessibility for under 18s to freely purchase and potentially normalise the consumption of alcohol, and a potential “gateway effect” of non-alcoholic beverages potentially conditioning people to crave the taste of beer, wine and spirts

Category Definition

  • Soft-drink brands typically lock up all non-alcoholic beverages within an exclusive category sponsorship, leaving beer and wine companies excluded from using their sponsorship channels to promote these products
  • The increasing popularity and growing awareness of non-alcoholic beverages will increase competitive tension amongst traditional soft-drink brands

A Healthy Option?

  • There is an ongoing debate as to the overall health benefits of non-alcoholic varieties – many low alcohol beers have higher sugar content than full strength beer, for example

But the emergence and normalisation of a category of beverages that can allow Australian sports fans to enjoy the social aspects of “having a beer” without the negative effects of alcohol consumption is certainly something to keep an eye on.