One of the most highly anticipated aspects of any Super Bowl is the creative commercials that major corporations debut during this time. For years, this platform is where the alcohol industry gained points with the average consumer, using humorous ads to subliminally convince them that booze should be a part of any sporting event as long as it is consumed responsibly. But marijuana does not get the same opportunities.
Even though marijuana legalization is taking shape on a reasonably large scale across the country, cannabis, a multi-billion dollar industry, remains a pariah in the world of professional sports. Not even those companies trying to spread the word about the potential medicinal components of the plant can seem to catch a break is the debacle rooted in conflicting states and federal law.
A report from Bloomberg indicates that CBS, the television network set to air Super Bowl LIII in the coming weeks, has rejected a 30-second advertisement proposed by a medical marijuana company.
Now, the ad was not designed to hypnotize football-hungry fans into putting down their beers and start smoking weed, it was merely intended to give the population a quick crash course in cannabis medicine. More specifically, the ad was generated “to create an advocacy campaign for constituents who are being lost in the dialogue,” Acreage Holdings President George Allen told the new source. “It’s hard to compete with the amount of attention something gets when it airs during the Super Bowl,” he added, saying the company was “somewhat unsurprised” by the network’s decision.
Showing a cannabis ad during the Super Bowl would have been just as historic as it would have been a giant leap past the prohibition standard. Although more than 30 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government still considers cannabis to be a dangerous Schedule I drug. In fact, it is only due to Uncle Sam’s lame classification of the herb that it is next to impossible for cannabis commerce to mingle with or even get into a full-blown, slobbering love affair with members of traditional commerce. Weed is still considered an experiment at many levels.
The NFL itself, which is worth more than $8 billion, continues to ban its players from using marijuana, even if it is just to prevent them from using prescription painkillers and other pharmaceuticals that have been putting people in early graves by the tens of thousands over the past few years. So, allowing a television spot to air during the league’s championship event, one where roughly 111 million people could call them on their hypocrisy, was probably never even a consideration. But Acreage, which is considered one of the most valuable cannabis company in the U.S., went for it anyway.
“We certainly thought there was a chance,” Allen said. “You strike when the chance of your strike has the probability of success — this isn’t a doomed mission.”
Some NFL players spoke out against the league for not accepting the Acreage ad. “Keep pumping the booze ads, guys,” Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long tweeted Tuesday, after news broke of the decision.
But old habits die hard, and alcohol is big business in the NFL.
In 2015, Anheuser-Busch InBev paid $1.4 billion to become the league’s primary sponsor. It was a worthwhile investment. Some statistics show that around 325 million gallons of beer are consumed by Americans on Super Bowl Sunday alone – enough for every man, woman and child to have a gallon.
And while advertising revenue is reportedly down across the board during regular season games, according to Standard Media Index, ad inventory for the Super Bowl LIII is over 90 percent sold out. So, rejecting a cannabis company did not cost CBS any money. There is always a client looking to make a buy during this time slot.
Still, the fact that the cannabis industry is prepared to play in the big leagues shows that the U.S. is really not that far off from seeing pot ads airing during major sporting events. Commercials airing during the Super Bowl are some of the most expensive ad buys in the arena of professional sports. Companies have been known to drop more than $5 million for a 30-second spot, leading to networks raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue every year for less than four hours of air time.
But all it is going to take for marijuana to be given the same freedom to advertise products during the Super Bowl and other sporting events is for Congress to end marijuana prohibition once and for all. Although league representatives would never divulge plans to support the cannabis industry (i.e., take its money) as long as weed remains an outlaw substance at the federal level, that will start to change once the government deems the green as legal as beer and tobacco — you can bet on it.
Once that happens, the only question left will be whether sports organization will allow marijuana to be sold in stadiums and venues the way beer is sold now. Some pro-pot athletes say it “will never happen.”
“Especially if it is vapor…especially if there is going to be smoke,” says former NBA star Al Harrington. “We don’t want smoke in our arenas and different things like that. So, I don’t think that will ever happen.”
TELL US, do you think the NFL will ever accept cannabis?