Bud Light and the Cleveland Browns have collaborated to install Bud Light Cleveland Browns “Victory Fridges” around bars in Cleveland. These are smart-technology refrigerators that will automatically unlock after the Browns win their first regular-season victory of the 2018 NFL season (and maybe ever?). The press release says Ohio-based wholesaler House of LaRose will install the fridges at bars that have purchased them in Cleveland.
My brain is overloading with snarky jokes and questions, mainly: How is this legal? I mean, I know the Cleveland Browns organization is known for its quality decision-making, and its owner would never knowingly break a law, and that Anheuser-Busch would never try to skirt around distribution regulations, but this just doesn’t smell right. Can a distributor install branded fridges around town and just give beer away? We asked some of our legal pals and no one seems to understand how it could be.
The Ohio Craft Brewers Association had this to say: “The Ohio Craft Brewers Association encourages all breweries, wholesalers and retail permit holders to adhere to all Ohio laws, including ORC 4301.22 (D).” You can read that right here, but the most pertinent passage for this discussion would be:
No holder of a permit shall give away any beer or intoxicating liquor of any kind at any time in connection with the permit holder’s business. However, with the exception of an A-1-A permit holder that also has been issued an A-2 or A-2f permit, an A-1-A, A-1c, or D permit holder may provide to a paying customer not more than a total of four tasting samples of beer, wine, or spirituous liquor, as authorized by the applicable permit, in any twenty-four-hour period. The permit holder shall provide the tasting samples free of charge, at the permit holder’s expense, only to a person who is twenty-one years of age or older. The person shall consume the tasting samples on the premises of the permit holder. A distributor is not responsible for the costs of providing tasting samples authorized under division (D) of this section.
Attorney Rob Laplaca of Verill Dana‘s Breweries, Distilleries & Wineries Group, said: “Generally giving away beer as a prize or as part of a promotion is not allowed in most states. The laws regarding beer and promotions can be very confusing and interpretations can vary. It’s always possible that making a few tweaks can turn a potentially illegal promotion into a legal one.”
Maybe one tweak is this beer won’t really be free? The press release never actually says the word “free,” even though it is easy to infer (and is being touted as such in the news), and could be one way to avoid the violation. We have a question out to the A-B media contact to see if the beer is indeed going to be free, and a question to the Ohio Liquor Control Board.
However, Pete McNeil, CBB VP of Sales and Cleveland Browns scholar, astutely pointed out in our company chatbox: “It can’t be illegal if it never unlocks.” Which is true! Bud Light did this promotion in California if Mexico got past the Round of 16 teams in the World Cup, but since Mexico lost to Brazil no one knows what would have happened.
In the end, if it is ruled a no-no by Ohio’s Division of Liquor Control, and if, against all odds, the Cleveland Browns can actually win a fucking football game, it’s possible Anheuser-Busch doesn’t really care, deeming any possible fine worth all of this buzz.