Pay to play. If you are in any way involved in the craft beer industry, you have heard this phrase. What is usually meant by it is a form of bribery between distributors/breweries and bar/restaurants in which the bar agrees to put up beers for some type of remuneration.
In its most basic form, it is “here is an envelope of cash, thanks for the tap placements.” That has shifted to the rather rare “here is a bunch of money for festival sponsorship/advertising, thanks for the tap placements.”
Usually, it is done carrot and stick style with allocated releases. In North Carolina when you go into a bar and it always seems to have Highland Gaelic on tap, it is because they want to make sure they get a ½ barrel of Cold Mountain in November. Every brewery and distributor who as a special release beer does this. Is that wrong?
Here is an article from Good Beer Hunting that lays out what pay for play is in today’s beer world. Hint, there is a lot of gray area. It is an interview with Chicago’s Longman & Eagle bar manager Phil Olson that explores the concept of pay for play.
Hypothetical, you are a bar manager or owner and you are talking to a brewery rep and they mention this really big festival that they sponsor is in a few weeks. Then, they ask, “Would you like some tickets?” You say sure. That is the end of the conversation. He doesn’t ask you to buy anything. He doesn’t ask to put 3 beers on tap. Maybe you are someone he is trying to get into the fold and he is being nice in hopes you think about his beer the next time the distributor comes by for an order. Is that pay for play? What if you are already a good customer?
A rep comes to you and wants to do a tap takeover. She says, “We will do the social media and print posters for you and we’ll bring in glassware and swag for the customers and the bartenders.” All you have to do is put up 5 beers. Is that pay for play?
I think this interview does a good job of laying out that what people see in their minds as pay for play is not what actually happens and is rarely how it plays out.
Most of your customers want you to get that special release. Good distributors will remind you by pointing out the core stuff that fits your bars brand. Take Highland Cold Mountain. We should get a keg and at least a case of it this year, but at no point did we ever put up Highland Gaelic Ale which is easily their best-selling beer. Our distributor made sure we got all the Highland beer that fit our bar and what we want to do. That to me this isn’t pay for play. It is good business on everyone’s part. The brewery makes good core beer, the distributor makes sure his accounts know about it and the allocations, the retailer gets good beer year around and gets a reward for being a loyal customer.
I missed yesterday to go vote. I’m not happy with the result, but I’m not moving to Canada or anywhere else. Despite what some who voted for the winner may believe, I am an American. I was born here and will die here and I will fight for a better America as long as I can breath.