They weren't able to stop the 2002 Winter Games from having an official beer, so now anti-alcohol activists are attempting to limit Anheuser-Busch's ability to take advantage of its $50 million-plus sponsorship.
"We hope Anheuser-Busch looks back at the 2002 Winter Olympics and says, `That was the worst $50 million we ever invested,' " said George Van Komen, a doctor who heads the Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition.Van Komen, along with representatives of the Utah Medical Association, PTA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the state Legislature, met Monday with officials of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee about restricting the brewery's activities.
Their list of requests include bans during the Olympics on both the sale of beer from tents and advertising featuring the well-known Budweiser frogs and lizards, characters they say are aimed at children.
The coalition tried unsuccessfully to keep the brewery from being signed earlier this year as a national sponsor of the 2002 Winter Games and the U.S. Olympic teams through 2004 in a deal valued at more than $50 million.
After spending nearly an hour behind closed doors Monday afternoon, both the coalition and the organizing committee proclaimed their first meeting as positive.
The coalition received reassurance that SLOC officials won't ask that the state's tough liquor laws be loosened for the Olympics. But that's all they apparently left with.
SLOC plans only to pass along the coalition's requests to Anheuser-Busch, according to Shelley Thomas, the organizing committee's vice president for public communications.
"We are not able to dictate to Olympic sponsors," Thomas said. Sponsorship deals are made by Olympic Properties of the United States, a joint marketing venture between SLOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The coalition also hopes to meet with Anheuser-Busch. That request will also be forwarded to the St. Louis-based brewery, Thomas said, but the decision will be up to Anheuser-Busch.
"Everything's speculative," Jack Dougherty, a spokesman for the brewery, said Tuesday when asked whether a meeting would take place. He referred to a statement attributed to Francine Katz, Anheuser-Busch vice president of consumer awareness and education.
Katz said that for nearly 25 years, the brewery's sponsorship of the Olympics has been "responsible and tasteful" and that Anheuser-Busch "will continue to sponsor the Olympics because hundreds of millions of the world's sports fans are also beer drinkers.
"We respect the beliefs of Salt Lake City residents who choose to abstain from drinking and are confident these abstainers will extend the same respect to the world's responsibile drinkers."
Van Komen said he believes Olympic organizers have more sway over the list of Olympic sponsors than they're letting on. "I think SLOC has much more control," he said.
And Anheuser-Busch has an incentive to sit down with the coalition - the company "wants to go away this Olympics squeaky clean. They don't want to be beaten up," Van Komen said.
Although the coalition representatives told Olympic organizers they want the 2002 Winter Games to be successful, Van Komen said Anheuser-Busch could face vocal public opposition in Utah, including protests.
Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, said SLOC seems sensitive to the concerns of Utahns. "Utah is a unique place," Stephens said. "We should not be afraid to host an Olympics that reflects Utah values."
The concern over having a beer sponsor for the Olympics extends beyond Utah. The national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Texas sent a letter to the organizing committee suggesting the sponsorship is inappropriate.
"We are deeply concerned that beer manufacturers will be the national sponsors of these Olympic games which will be viewed by millions of youth around the world," stated the letter from MADD President Karolyn V. Nunnallee.