Universal Gets Involved With Theme Park Beer Bill

A bill is being considered by Florida legislators that would greatly change the dynamic between beer brewers, beer distributors, and theme parks; lobbyists for Universal Orlando have decided to get in the mix. The proposed legislation would allow an exemption from the current regulations, which ban beer producers from giving special gifts or deals to retail sellers.

The “tied house evil” law that is still in action today gets its name from a “tied house”, a British term for a bar that is required to sell beer from a particular provider. The law was enacted to prevent monopolies, keeping brewers from preventing rival beers to be sold in an effort to shut down competition. Those who oppose this law consider it outdated and unfair.

Of the current law, Universal Lobbyist Mac Stipanovich said, “It’s got to be close to the most archaic, anti-competitive, heavily regulated regulatory statute on the books.”

The proposed bill (sb388) would give an exemption to theme parks, allowing beer producers to sponsor major events and attractions. Those in opposition to the bill view it as giving an unfair advantage to larger brewers, namely Anheuser-Busch Inbev, the largest producer in the country. Florida craft brewers are worried Inbev will form multi-million dollar advertising deals that smaller brewers will be unable to compete with. Josh Aubuchon, a lobbyist for craft beer trade group the Florida Brewers Guild, told a House panel, “This is an arms race we can’t even play in.”

If sb388 passes, distributors could form sponsorships at parks with over 25 acres and more than 1 million visitors per year. Disney and Universal parks would fall under this umbrella, but their adjacent properties (Disney Springs and CityWalk) would not. Disney has yet to comment on the proposal. The bill still has another committee stop in each chamber before floor votes begin. The bill stipulates theme parks could not be contractually obligated to provide a certain number of taps to a distributor, but detractors of the bill believe that exact situation will occur.

Lobbyist Eric Criss, representing MillerCoors distributor Beer Industry of Florida, said of Anheuser-Busch, “This company [Anheuser Busch] is not the pretty Clydesdales marching in the snow. It’s the python in the Everglades eating everything around it.”

Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Jon Rees fired back. “This foreign-owned ‘python’ employs 800 Floridians around the state,” Rees replied, “We’re attempting to modernize the statutes.”

Of the battle between small-scale craft beer producers and giant distributors, Universal lobbyist Stipanovich had this to say: “There’s all sorts of things that will be available to craft brewers. Now if what you’re really saying is, ‘I don’t have as much money as Anheuser Busch,’ well damn, I don’t know what to do about that.”

(Source – The Orlando Sentinel)

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