The proposal you’re about to read is fairly simple but it would require some cojones and collective effort of a type at which America’s beverage cultures – beer, wine, and spirits – are not very good. But if we could all at least start this discussion in every state that’s now home to a craft brewery, microbrewery, independent winery, or artisan distillery, it could help hasten the end of a shameful epoch in American history that was marked by those of us who drink and enjoy “adult beverages” having almost no choices and, in recent decades, sending an increasing percentage of our dollars spent on same to countries not named The United States.
I’ve actually been hammering away at this idea for almost eight years, now, beginning in 2006, when I started asking politely (which later gave way to insisting hotly) that our local NFL stadium – The Seattle Seahawks’ QWest Field, now called CenturyLink Field – should at least make an effort to acknowledge the fact that Washington is one of the nation’s four largest brewing states and add local or in-state beers to the product mix for football games.
The resistance would have registered on the Richter Scale.
First, Levy Restaurants, the former concessionaire at the old Qwest, told me that they did carry craft beers and gave examples: Fat Tire, Stella Artois, Heineken, Sam Adams, and Red Hook. I replied that, in order, those beers came from Colorado, Belgium, Holland, Boston, and Anheuser Busch, NOT Washington. Red Hook IS based here but is a close affiliate of AB, which completely ruined their appeal to NW craft fans just as soon as they signed on with them. Their successor, Delaware North, shifted all blame for their mix of products at the CLink onto First & Goal, the Seahawks organization that runs the stadium. The result of my static and others’ is that, for ONE season, F&G created what were called “Craft Shacks” which were scattered throughout the stadium and did carry local beers. After that first season, the local Anheuser Bucsh distributor stepped in and “kindly” offered to take the running of these off the stadium’s hands…which has now turned into a couple of “craft beer” stalls that sell NOTHING but AB’s affiliated beers, several of them not even Washington companies. And, just this past week, the State of Washington hung a purely cosmetic $150,000 fine on AB for payoffs and illegal considerations – what’s known as “pay for play” – to Seattle nightclubs and music venues. The findings were past ofan evidence report alledging “undue influence” on the Showbox, Showbox SoDo and Marymoor Park, all owned and operated by AEG Live NW, with food and drink services provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering. The state says that AB and its wholly-owned local distributor, cut sponsorship contracts at the three music spots to grab a monopoly on sales, which does violate this state’s regulations. As someone with 24 years in the Washington beverage trade, I can tell you categorically that this “penalty” the state is now slapping themselves on the back and AB on the wrist with is not even 2% of the whole local story of Bud’s cut-throat tactics aimed at stifling any real competition for the Seattle beer market. I’ve seen this for two and a half decades and it’s precisely what was behind my rattling the Seahawks, Levy’s, New Delaware’s, and First & Goal’s cages.
This has led to four solid years of wrangling, which wound up with me getting fed up with the stadium’s endless stalls and non-responses and evasions and finally going over their heads – working with a state representative to draft legislation. Along the way, many, many people have called me idealistic.
Here’s the Proposal and the Rationale…
“I plan to help write and campaign for legislation that would require any public facility or facility that is financed, even in part, by public funds, to devote at least 30% of all available beer taps, (wine stock, soda inventory, candy, ice cream, any consumer product) to producers from within the state who make similar products and have the means to meet the demands of the facility. (In beer or wine terms, this would sometimes mean the facility changing out kegs or glass pours frequently, as supplies of a particular product run out but I have NO doubt that producers would create and pay for(!) ways to quickly switch signage to reflect the change.)
Since 2006, I’ve been asking people with first Levy Restaurants and Now Delaware North – the last and current CenturyLike Field purveyors – to expand their taps for in-state craft beers and very scant effort was made at all, resulting in most taps that are pouring craft beer at CLink being filled only with Anheuser Busch products. If facilities in Washington and Oregon and other states were compelled to include our local breweries and wineries and even our distilleries in the product mix for these massive events, literally MILLIONS of dollars could go supporting our states’ producers, instead of sending more and more money each year to Belgium and Brazil. This would not, of course, apply to privately-owned facilities, unless that facility is accepting some sort of state aid ur subsidy.
Asking for 30% is ridiculously reasonable. That figure could and probably should be a LOT higher, but I’m not interested in trying to tell Bud drinkers that they can’t have what they like to drink. I just don’t think it’s likely to kill any of ’em to have to walk an extra 50 to 100 feet to grab a cup of watery crap. I was told in Olympia that I, as just a private citizen, have no standing to ask for such a change and that it would take brewers testifying about the need for such laws to level the playing field with Big Beer. I cannot grasp how anybody could not see the wisdom in asking facilities that WE support to reciprocate in supporting our local and state businesses.”
This is the Facebook post I wrote last week and even this generated some accusations of idealism.
There is not a damned bit of idealism in what I’m suggesting. I want EXACTLY what Anheuser Busch expects in pulling these underhanded shenanigans: considerations for dollars delivered. In plain fact, these stadia would NOT EVEN EXIST without our dollars that were contributed to their creation. In return we SHOULD expect even more concessions than AB gets. We have EVERY right to say, “Okay, folks, we PAID for this facility and you OWE us.” And what they, by God, OWE is support in kind. I’m about as big a Seahawks fan as anyone I know but my answer to Paul Allen asking for my tax dollars to help build a stadium from which his company is going to keep all the revenues is, “Gee, Paul, filthy rich guy like you needs MY money…I gotta ask, what’s in it for me?” And it is NOT just watching the Seahawks. They very well could still be playing in the Kingdome and we’d all still pony up for tickets. If we don’t make this happen, we have only ourselves to blame when businesses fail because we failed to explore every option.
Folks, this is Important Stuff. We have spawned and nurtured, in this country, cultures surrounding our small, independent brewing, winemaking, and distilling businesses that have succeeded in a way larger than almost any other American business segment not concerned with computers, software, and peripherals of same. It is exactly this simple: American small businesses make beer, they make wine, they make Whiskey and Vodka and Gin and Rum and ice cream and soda pop and popcorn and hot dogs and Red Vines and all that other stuff our local stadia and arenas sell. WE lay out money for the creation of these places and then watch them routinely send our dollars to Belgium and Brazil and Canada and the UK and other countries – and other states! – that make those goods they could quite likely obtain locally. We have the right to insist – and to draft legislation giving our insistence teeth – that the support that allows fat cat team and arena owners to prosper be reciprocated. It’s not idealistic and not impractical. If it creates problems for the NFL or NBA or MLB, that’s theirs to resolve. Business arrangements do not trump state law. And we have the absolute right to pass such legislation, enforce it, and keep our dollars in our states.
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