The Beer Dance: Our Craft Beer March Madness Bracket
NEW ORLEANS ( MainStreet) -- Oh, the sports world has March Madness all right, but you know what March Madness doesn't have? Beer. Not one drop.
No Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and Budweiser signs scattered throughout arenas. No MolsonCoors(TAP) ads imploring fans to tap the Rockies. Nothing. What the big guys see as a loss, however, should be craft beer's shot at a Cinderella Story.
The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is the biggest event in a college sport played by athletes predominantly below the legal drinking age. The NCAA bans alcohol sales during all its championships except football's postseason and bowls -- which it doesn't run -- and limits alcohol ads to malt beverages, beer and wine products with a sessionable 6% alcohol by volume or less. Even at that, beer ads made up less than 6% of all advertising during last year's Final Four.
That means AT&T(T) , Capital One (COF) and Coca-Cola(KO) can splash their names all over the Big Dance without a care in the world while Bud and Coors have to watch the action from the cheap seats. If Allstate(ALL) , Lowe's(LOW) , Unilever(UN) , GM(GM) , UPS(UPS) or even Hershey's(HSY) come sniffing around for seats as corporate sponsor, the NCAA's answer is "Who needs two?" If Diageo(DEO) wants the tournament's help selling a bit more Guinness around St. Patrick's Day, it has to stand in the cancellation line with everyone else.
With the NCAA putting the median age of the typical March Madness brewer at 48, there are still good odds for any brewer trying to make inroads with college fans through the tournament. It'll just take some local focus, a lot of legwork and a product that separates itself from the field: You know, the stuff regional and craft brewers rely on year-round.
Taking a look at the NCAA Tournament's host cities, we couldn't help but notice that each had one or more craft brewers either in town or nearby that could factor into as many road trip stories as opposing team cheerleaders or rich alums buying rounds. With the NCAA's rules leveling the playing field between those little guys and the big brewers, we figured it might not be a bad idea to see the best of what those brewers had to offer.
We went over the 14 host cities and with the help of ratings sites RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and some of the best research imaginable and were able to pick a beer to represent each city or region. Our one caveat was that they should be beers that could be enjoyed during the games -- not heavier than 7% ABV. Armed with that information, we gave First Four and Final Four hosts Dayton, Ohio, and New Orleans each a first-round bye for their trouble and bracketed the rest of the field based on region.