The University of Minnesota can now enter into licensing and sponsorship deals with alcoholic beverage companies — as long as they leave Goldy Gopher out of it.
The athletic department will receive about $300,000 per year from alcohol licensing and sponsorship deals under the proposal the U's Board of Regents approved Friday. The university's name and "M" logo can appear on beer cans or other alcohol-related paraphernalia, but the mascot cannot. A portion of the revenue will go to alcohol recovery and education programs.
The board approved the measure by a 7-5 vote.
Regent David McMillan, who voted in favor, said he was not "wild-eyed" about the proposal but said the money earned from the sponsorships can help with finances. He said he understands why people believe the deal will increase the potential of students drinking on and around campus, but he doesn't believe it will have as much impact as previous decisions on the matter.
"If we really want to reverse course and make a bigger difference in terms of student consumption of alcohol, we probably need to back all the way up to decisions long ago about selling alcohol in our venues," McMillan said. "That, to me, is a bigger deal than a branding opportunity that hopefully will be thoughtfully, carefully and wisely used in cases where they can actually make a bottom-line difference."
The policy also excludes alcohol-related advertising in classrooms, dorms and research buildings.
The $300,000 estimate was a sticking point for some regents, who felt the amount was too small to be worth changing the policy.
Regent Darrin Rosha said he was "troubled" by the proposal. He voted "no." He expressed concern the partnerships would have a negative impact on the U's brand and said $300,000 is not enough to take on that risk. Regent Mike Kenyanya voted against the proposal, citing concerns that the U will not be able to raise even $300,000 in revenue from the partnerships.
Regent Richard Beeson said the low amount was a positive and means there is little risk of the sponsorships influencing the U's brand. McMillan added that while it's a small amount compared with the university finances at large, the potential earnings could make a big impact at some of the U's smaller campuses.
According to Vice President of University Relations Matt Kramer, who presented the proposal to the board in December, the athletic department received $1.59 million from licensing agreements in fiscal year 2020.
Rodrigo Tojo Garcia, a U student representative to the board, spoke during the meeting and took issue with the idea that the policy will only affect students who are over the age of 21.
"The advertising that would come about as a result of this policy will undoubtedly end up having some effect on students who are below the legal drinking age," Garcia said.
The mascot exclusion was added after the December discussion because the board raised concerns about associating Goldy Gopher and its four other campus mascots with drinking. Beeson, Kenyanya and Regent Michael Hsu all said they were happy to see mascots excluded from the policy.
The U joins 11 other Big Ten institutions that allow alcohol licensing and sponsorship deals. The only schools in the conference that prohibit such agreements are Wisconsin and Penn State.
Learfield IMG College, the U's marketing partner, said more than 130 of its 200 higher education clients have alcohol sponsorships and licensing agreements.
The U will now work with Learfield to market proposals for a deal with a national vendor, and hopes to have that process complete before the fall 2021 athletics season. When that is complete, the U will work on forming partnerships with Minnesota alcohol companies.
Peter Warren • 612-673-1713