Monday, March 4, 2024

UNCW goes with big name beers over local breweries in first year of alcohol sales

WILMINGTON — The University of North Carolina-Wilmington has agreed to deals with large beer distributors over local craft breweries in its inaugural season of alcohol sales at basketball games and other sporting events.

After the passage of House Bill 389 legalized beer and wine sales at college sports arenas and stadiums in June, the university signed contracts with regional beer distributors Adams Beverages and Coastal Beverage Company.

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Under the contracts, signed by Athletics Director Jimmy Bass in mid-September and the beginning of October, each company agreed to pay $10,000 in cash to UNCW Athletics “in support of the University,” and provide complimentary beers at all Seahawk Club functions. Each was also given rights to PA announcements at basketball and baseball games, radio and television commercial spots, and premium ad space on basketball game programs. 

When asked why the contract stipulated $10,000 cash payments, university spokesperson Christina Schechtman said in an email Friday evening that “certain types of recognition of and participation by sponsors of Athletics games and via other outlets are discussed by both parties.”

She said that given the items listed in the first section of the contract — those giving each distributor advertising rights and four season passes to all sporting events — the distributors agreed to the $10,000 valuation.

She also clarified what it meant for the cash payments to be made “in support of the university.”

“Funding from any source assists the Athletics Department in meeting the expenses in providing our student-athletes the best opportunity to succeed, not only on the court or field, but in the classroom,” Schechtman said. “Sponsorship funds are also directed toward enhancing a fan experience at games and events.”

The agreement commenced July 1 and will expire on June 30, 2020. Each distributor is allowed to sell three products, according to an email from assistant athletic director Rob Brickels.

No ‘pouring rights’ for local breweries yet

Adams Beverages is an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler with markets in Alabama and North Carolina, expanding to 23 counties in eastern North Carolina last March. Coastal Beverage Company is headquartered in the Pender Commerce Park and has acquired distributors in Elizabeth City, Jacksonville, and Wilmington over the last two decades, including Wilmington’s Shore Distributors in February. 

Emails sent by representatives of Wilmington Brewing Company, Waterline Brewing Company, and Flying Machine Beer Company inquiring of any potential involvement with UNCW’s new beer program were met with the same response from Brickels. Michelle Savard of Wilmington Brewing Company proposed brewing a specific Seahawk beer, similar to New Belgium’s “Old Tuffy” produced for North Carolina State’s Wolfpack teams.

“Unfortunately, due to the short amount of time we have to secure the ‘pouring rights’ for athletic venues at UNCW, we will not be pursuing a partnership with any local breweries during this fiscal year (ending June 30, 2020),” Brickels wrote.

The term ‘pouring rights’ is used in the beverage industry to describe the exclusive rights of a beverage maker or distributor to have its products sold at a particular venue, event, or institution. But the contracts clarify that each company has non-exclusive rights because there are two distributors involved. 

UNCW has partnered with two regional distributors to sell beer at its athletic facilities, including the Raiford G. Trask Coliseum. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Brickels also said in an email the university would be working with its food service provider Aramark to host a local brewery event at Brooks Field sometime this spring, likely April, during a UNCW baseball game weekend. 

“We do anticipate incorporating a local brewery into our ‘pouring rights’ portfolio for the fiscal year 2020-2021,” he replied. 

Schechtman said Aramark had worked with vendors that already had an established relationship for catered events and sales at Kenan Auditorium.

“Next year should provide broader opportunities for local breweries,” Schechtman said.

University sets beer procedures

Aramark received a temporary permit from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on September 18, which is expected to become permanent in January. 

In late October the UNCW Board of Trustees formally approved the sale of alcohol at Trask Coliseum athletic events beginning October 26. A vote to approve alcohol sales at other sports facilities will take place in January or February. 

For now, beer is only sold in cans or plastic bottles and not on draft, following concerns from Aramark and UNCW officials that kegs would require dispensing equipment and spillage containment measures. 

Adams Beverages has agreed to sell to the university 16-ounce cans of Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and SweetWater 420 IPA (SweetWater Brewing Company is a large craft brewery in Atlanta, Georgia). Meanwhile, Coastal Beverage Company has arranged to sell Miller Lite, Corona Extra, and White Claw Hard Seltzer.

Mark Darrough can be reached at or (970) 413-3815

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