The Ocho approach-o
Plus: A “bourbon tater” eyewitness report!
Way back in 1988, Sports Illustrated called the beer-sports relationship “blessed chapter and verse in U.S. brewers' bibles of marketing and advertising,” noting that “almost every kind of sporting event—from a rinky-dink hometown road race to the Olympic Games—is played out, as often as not, in an environment of beer slogans, beer signs, beer songs and beer salesmanship.”
The beer industry, the sports-broadcasting business, and the rinky-dink events1 in question have all changed dramatically in the intervening 35 years, but the relationship between beverages and fringe sport-ivities like Spikeball endures apace. Call it The Ocho approach-o: established, often publicly traded companies with a never-ending thirst for new customers throw in with offbeat/obscure/just plain odd competitions and leagues (think Dodgeball’s fictional Las Vegas dodgeball tournament) trading relatively small sums of cash and credibility for the attention of passionate communities and promoters desperate for both. Plus, on the off chance that an event goes mainstream, its early sponsors are in prime position to reap massive marketing payoffs in the form of earned-media exposure, licensing, etc.
Late last year, Anheuser-Busch Inbev2 acquired a professional pickleball team to, as an executive very normally put it, “gain relevance and excitement for our brands.” (This is how people who make 5-10 times as much as I do say “sell more beer;” the additional money is for all the extra syllables.) And in January, Monster Energy, purveyor of the malt-based, 6% ABV Beast Unleashed and owner of one of the largest craft brewery networks in the United States, became the first official partner of Power Slap, which bills itself as “the world's first sanctioned and regulated slap fighting organization.” (More on what the hell any of that means in just a moment.)
It’s not hard to figure out why ABI wants a piece of pickleball. The game, a synthesis of tennis’ basic premise, ping-pong’s rapid-fire volleys, and CrossFit’s unbearable zealotry, has taken the nation’s public parks and retirement communities by storm over the past few years. Its rise roughly coincides with ABI’s own semi-successful efforts to position Michelob Ultra as its future flagship to offset serious sales declines for Bud Light. I haven’t seen anything about which brands the company is going to plaster all over its professional pickleball players’ jerseys, but I’d be shocked if it was anything other than Mich Ultra. The “better-for-you” light lager already dominates the lucrative golf demographic; ABI’s pickleball play gives it a shot at the hottest new thing at the country club, too. Plus, if pickleball actually does go mainstream, you’d better believe ABI will be working the phones to line up another Full Swing-style docuseries with its pals at Netflix. It all makes sense, and as far as beer advertising goes, it’s pretty wholesome stuff.
On the opposite end of the wholesome sport-ivity spectrum is Monster’s new partner Power Slap. Created in 2022 by Ultimate Fighting Championship president/weapons-grade asshole Dana White and billionaire casino scion Lorenzo Fertitta, Power Slap is just dudes taking turns slapping each other in the face. That’s it. Even compared to the UFC, it’s pretty bleak! As the New York Times’ Sports of the Times columnist Kurt Streeter wrote earlier this month (emphasis mine):
The phenomenon of slap fighting has given rise to the Power Slap League, regulated by the Nevada Athletic Commission, but the whole enterprise has little to do with the sports that derive their power from tapping into the best parts of humanity.
It’s more like a display of pure punishment created for TV ratings, video views and money, money, money.
Having unfortunately seen a bunch of clips of Power Slap League (PSL) on social media thanks to Happy Dad (a top-10 hard seltzer in chain retail backed by YouTube’s NELK Boys; the brand appears to have some sort of sponsorship/content deal with the league, and its logos appear on the ring mat) over the past few months, I tend to agree. PSL participants routinely get knocked out, and someone has already died from slapfighting3. The vice-chairman of neurological surgery at the University of California San Francisco told Streeter that slapfighting is basically the ideal way to get a concussion. Very cool!
This is not the sort of goofy, rinky-dink competition you historically see legitimate companies—much less ones with beverage-alcohol brands—getting behind. But times are changing, and Monster, beloved as it is by drywall-punching Kyles, small-business tyrants, and other flat-brimmed members of the lift-kit bourgeoisie, clearly sees an opportunity. Ditto Happy Dad, which has often laundered right-wing reactionism to its massive audience along with more standard #epicbro fare. Bold strategy, Cotton, we’ll see if it works out for ‘em!
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🥔 A “bourbon tater” eyewitness report
Thanks to an anonymous message on The FingersTip™️ Line last week, we got a real-time look at the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s bourbon retail protocol in action. The basic gist—as longtime readers might recall from coverage of last year’s glorious VABC Facebook insider trading scandal—is that to try to tamp down on massive lines and gray-market reselling of coveted brown liquor, the bureau created a randomization system for announcing allotments via short-notice email blasts and social media posts. A store takes a shipment of, say, Eagle Rare bourbon, the VABC sends an email to its list an hour later, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you get to buy some Eagle Rare for MSRP. Congratulations!
As someone who refuses to wait in line for anything besides life-saving medicine and like, voting, I never bother with this sort of thing. I drink Evan Williams bottled-in-bond for like $32 a handle, and it’s fine. But people do it! And they did it the other day in central Virginia for a Blanton’s release, which led to our tipster witnessing this truly tragic moment on the front lines of the Commonwealth’s bourbon mania: