Many broadcasters have had the conception that there are FCC rules against liquor advertising, As we wrote in 2007, the FCC has never directly regulated liquor ads. Many years ago, the FCC did ask broadcasters seeking a license if they would rely on the NAB Code of voluntary conduct, which set out limits on broadcaster advertising for alcoholic beverages (essentially forbidding hard liquor ads). When the Code was declared unconstitutional in the 1980s, there was no longer any FCC review, direct or indirect, of any alcoholic beverage advertising. But that is not to say that there were no restrictions, as many programming providers and rights holders themselves limited the kinds of ads that could accompany their programs and, as we wrote in our previous post, the alcoholic beverage trade associations had voluntary codes of conduct, which the FTC looks to in determining whether advertising is an unfair trade practice. The rightsholder restrictions were demonstrated this past week, when the University of Wisconsin reportedly banned beer advertising on broadcast coverage of its school’s football games. Private contracts from program suppliers and rights holders, including sports programming from schools and colleges, often include restrictions against certain types of advertising which, if breached, can carry contractual penalties including the potential for the cancellation of a station’s authority to continue to carry the programming. Especially where such rights were the subject of competitive bargaining, broadcasters want to insure that they do not violate these restrictions and put their valuable programming rights at risk.
Some of the broadest restrictions on advertising accompany sports programs. On Friday, there was a story in Inside Radio (subscription required) about the NCAA’s requirements for broadcast advertising. With college football season up us, we thought that we’d look at some of those advertising restrictions. Those restrictions can be found on the NCAA website, here. The NCAA has a list of specific products that are permitted to be advertised, with guidelines on how those presentations should be made when the product is pitched. In addition, the list includes certain products that should not be advertised on NCAA games. For instance, while beer advertising is permitted, the NCAA says that such ads should not take up more than 60 seconds of commercial time per hour (one 60 second ad or two 30 second ads). The ads should feature no "gratuitous and overly suggestive sexual innuendo, no displays of disorderly, reckless or destructive behavior." The ads also should include a "drink responsibly" message. Hard liquor, on the other hand, cannot be advertised in NCAA programs. Similarly, there are prohibitions on gambling ads of any kind (including ads for casinos or race tracks); firearms; adult entertainment locations including pool halls; adult movies and video games (with NC-17 ratings); ads promoting any products containing NCAA banned substances (including ginseng); and ads for controversial and political issues.
The guidelines for the NCAA, and those for other organizations, are meant to preserve a certain image of the organization. Even professional sports leagues look at their image in deciding what advertisers to permit to accept their brands (see the NFL standards, here), and which are carried over into advertising restrictions within broadcasts of games (see example, here). Thus, to avoid inadvertently violating any contract provisions, stations need to use care in reviewing their contractual advertising restrictions on all programming that they broadcast to insure that they act accordingly when choosing the spots to run in such programming.