Brewer's Blog

The Shortsightedness of Pay To Play

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The folks at Pretty Things in Massachusetts recently went on a Twitter bender about the evils of Pay To Play (p2p) at bars/pubs/restaurants.  For the uninitiated, p2p is a method that brewers and marketing companies use to tie up tap space in the public eye for their own means.  A beer rep goes into the place of business and offers to pay for the exclusive rights to a given number of tap lines.  From that day until the end of the contract (verbal or otherwise) that tap should only pour beer from said brewery or one of its affiliates.

Why would this be a problem?  Breweries with the deepest pockets will be the only ones on tap.  This results in weak beer choices at best.  Worse for the venue is the fact that the same brewery has gone out to the surrounding 5000 venues and made the same offer.  So they're left with the same choices on tap as every other place in the city too short-sighted to refuse the overture.

So for example, the MTS Center and their contract with Labatt's.  The best you could hope for at the game would be some type of Labatt's product which you're bent over for to the tune of $10/beer.  At the start of each year, the folks at Labatt's hand over a "sponsorship" cheque that basically buys their way into the venue and helps to pay for the running of the venue therein.

Boston Pizza has Molson's, so all you can get there is some ice cold Coors Light, Canadian, and a host of Rickard's products that all come from the same brewery.

The Blue Bombers have the same deal with Labatt's, and after some complaints from the fans, were so kind to install a "premium" beer booth, which again, carries nothing but Labatt's products.  Keep in mind that Stella Artois is owned by the same massive conglomerate that owns Labatt's.  And Stella is like Belgium's version of Blue.

I don't think it has dawned on many Canadians just how often this happens.  Its like they accept that whoever paid for the umbrella's at their local restaurant has the best damn beer to ever grace their throats with its presence.

Let's be emphatically clear:  Half Pints has never paid for tap space.  We've never contracted for lines, and when asked to, we've refused.  What we always have offered is the service of direct contact with the people who brew the beer, the best quality beer we can brew, and the guarantee that if anything goes wrong, we'll make it right.

When new places have asked us to pay for draught lines, we've always come forward to educate them about the long term pain they're in for when they get a brewery to pay for their lines.  That means us, or anyone.  We have always maintained that a venue should own its own lines, refrigeration systems and bar equipment.  This independent stance means a large expense up front when it comes to setting up a bar, but will result in long term gain by having the flexibility to call the shots on what beer is moving and what beer needs to be booted off-line.

I would expect a place we didn't service properly to drop our beer in a heartbeat.  Which is impossible in a p2p situation.  That's how the breweries and marketing companies reel bar managers in.

Before you think this is just a game that the big guys play, understand this: it is a game that some small craft breweries and marketing companies are playing as well.

Brewing beer that sells is hard work.

For some, its an insurmountable task that they have yet to figure out, so p2p is just part of their repertoire.

Think on these things the next time you're out for a beer.

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