Tag Archives: sport

Sports Sponsorships in Cannabis: The Long Legal Road Ahead

By Airina Rodrigues
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If legal cannabis isn’t already a key facet of American culture, it is well on its way. The multibillion-dollar industry is already ubiquitous in politics, and consumers are increasingly seeing various types of marketing from cannabis brands, from billboards to magazine ads to organic content on social media. It may not be long before sports fans see more of their favorite athletes talking up CBD products for pain management or even see a dispensary chain claim naming rights for a stadium.

The next big marketing frontier for cannabis brands is professional sports sponsorships. And in some respects, it makes sense that athletes might be natural brand ambassadors for an industry focused on pain management and mental health relief. But there are obstacles unique to the highly regulated cannabis market that, paired with the already legality-heavy proposition of sponsorship deals, mean a long road ahead. Here are some key considerations for cannabis and CBD brands looking to a future of sports sponsorships.

The Current Climate

Many leagues have already embraced sponsorship deals with CBD brands, from NASCAR to the United Soccer League. The four pillar sports in the U.S.—the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball—have already relaxed their rules and testing protocols related to athletes and cannabis. In 2019, the NFL reached an agreement with the players’ union to study the pain management benefits of cannabis and in 2020, the NFL announced players will no longer be suspended for positive tests and increased the threshold of allowable THC for positive tests. And stars like powerhouse tight-end Rob Gronkowski and former Denver Nuggets Al Harrington in retirement have attached their names to cannabis and CBD brands.

After dismal profits through the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Big Four” sports leagues may want to consider opening an entirely new sponsorship category via cannabis and CBD. Additional pressure might come from athletes themselves, who want alternative treatments for pain and anxiety. As the public looked in from the outside as the MLB negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement and as leagues renegotiate CBAs generally, player pressure could continue to move the needle on league acceptance of cannabis products.

If sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis

As much as this means less stigma for cannabis, it also illustrates the constant fragmentation that makes it difficult for cannabis businesses to operate like other companies. While the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB have all eased up on players’ use of the substance, they haven’t embraced CBD sponsorships the same way other leagues have and currently won’t allow their athletes to seek CBD or cannabis sponsorship deals as individuals. Piecemeal state legalization, strict advertising rules, enduring federal prohibitions and a lack of FDA approval are the biggest barriers specific to the cannabis industry. And, while the “Big Four” leagues are not signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, applying their own anti-doping policies, don’t look for cannabis sponsorships or endorsements of Olympic sports or athletes any time soon—WADA prohibits in-competition use of cannabis, although it is conducting a scientific review of the status of cannabis in 2022, indicating a softening may be forthcoming.

Paired with the issues typical to sport sponsorships generally, cannabis companies have much more to consider when seeking sponsorship deals.

Threshold Sports Sponsorships Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD 

As a threshold matter, if sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis and specifically, FDA approval for CBD products. The agency decided not to allow companies to market full-spectrum CBD as a dietary supplement in August, and formal guidelines may be years away as medical and scientific data materialize either supporting or negating the health claims. In the meantime, companies and their spokespeople cannot claim certain health benefits in advertising without FDA approval.

Cannabis itself is also still a schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and has historically been listed among most leagues’ anti-doping bans, although as discussed above, it appears attitudes might be beginning to shift. Even in states where adult use and medical cannabis are legal, taxes are high and advertising rules are incredibly strict. They also vary from market to market. When Connecticut legalized cannabis in 2021, state Attorney General William Tong moved to have all billboards advertising Massachusetts dispensaries removed for violating the state’s cannabis marketing restrictions. With a web of intersecting, and at times conflicting, state regulations at play, national marketing campaigns are highly challenging. The crisscrossing markets on game days and the national exposure of most athletes in the Big Four leagues will likely implicate multiple jurisdictions, and multiple sets of advertising regulations that don’t always mesh. And, even if a policy decision were made to allow some territory-restricted sponsorship deals in the cannabis space, it’s unclear if and how cannabis sponsors could exercise even local broadcasting rights—a key value driver for any sponsorship deal.

Specific Sponsorship Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD

In addition to the above, the host of legal and business issues generally applicable to sports sponsorships deals will likely take on a different flavor with respect to cannabis and CBD.

From a commercial perspective, one of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category. It’s important that sponsors take a critical eye to how a league may have “sliced and diced” that category. For example, a would-be cannabis sponsor may not be expecting a competitor to take up rights in the CBD space. But without close attention to how the sponsorship category is defined, any oversight here could lead to sharing branding space with unwelcome neighbors.

One of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category.

In highly regulated industry categories such as gambling/casino and sports betting, league policies mandate strict compliance obligations on the part of the sponsor. We should expect to see a similar approach if leagues approve cannabis sponsorships. For example, in gaming and sports betting, league requirements often demand that sponsors notify the team or league of any compliance issues—no matter how nonmaterial, and no matter if they affect any rights or activities in the sponsorship territory. If there are compliance violations, leagues and teams typically demand immediate termination rights. The compliance and disclosure obligations for a highly regulated sponsor can be onerous, and sponsors risk losing their sponsorship investment even for trivial issues that do not bear on the sponsorship. For example, should a minor casino compliance violation in Las Vegas result in termination of a sponsorship deal in New York? Similarly, if a dispensary in Seattle operating under an interstate brand receives a de minimus fine for an inadvertent sale to a minor, should that result in termination of that brand’s sponsorship deal in Colorado? While these types of compliance and termination provisions are typically negotiable to something approximating fairness, look for leagues to take a hard-line stance on compliance issues, and expect that some teams may mandate deal terms that are take it or leave it.

Similarly, leagues and teams often demand strict morals provisions allowing them to terminate if they determine, in their sole discretion, that the sponsor or its activities might cause reputational harm to the team. Although cannabis is rapidly destigmatizing, one might argue that the industry is at least historically aligned with illegality and perhaps inherently aligned with other “sin” industries like gambling, alcohol and tobacco. Teams and leagues know what they are getting into when they accept sponsorship money from these industries, and cannabis sponsors should demand that any such “morals” provisions be exercised by teams only reasonably, in good faith, and with an opportunity for the sponsor to cure any alleged issues.

Further, just like gaming and sports betting operators, cannabis businesses are restricted from marketing to minors. While state laws are a hodge-podge, sales to individuals under the age of 21 are generally prohibited, and cannabis businesses are also generally restricted from marketing to individuals under the age of 21, or even from publishing marketing materials that appeal to children—a subjective standard. These rules, of course, are likely to restrict the type of signage and activation that can occur in stadia. It also poses issues from a digital marketing and data-sharing perspective. Sponsors and teams often negotiate specific activations via social media, websites and email marketing lists. But the parties must keep in mind compliance issues regarding these activations, including taking care to scrub relevant marketing databases of users under the age of 21 and, possibly, “self-excluded” individuals. The gaming industry is familiar with self-exclusion sign-ups, which permit individuals to opt out of relevant marketing and be disallowed from entering gaming establishments. The cannabis industry may not be far behind. In 2020, the Illinois General Assembly introduced HB4134, which if passed would have permitted self-exclusion from targeting mailings, advertising and promotions and from entry into dispensaries. While this bill died, it’s conceivable that we will see efforts to pass similar bills.

Finally, in 2020-21, sponsors, teams and leagues collectively, and regardless of industry, combed through the thorny issues of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect to observe a continuing trend of extra scrutiny paid to force majeure and so-called “make good” provisions for missed games or unavailable benefits.

extraction equipment

Moneybowl: How Data Analytics Can Improve Extraction Processes

By Dr. Markus Roggen, Sajni Shah, Stella Zhu
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extraction equipment

When data analytics was first introduced in the sports industry, it was met with a lot of criticism. But then it began to show results; a popular example being the story of Oakland Athletics Manager Billy Beane, depicted in the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt. In the cannabis industry today, we face familiar hurdles. Everyone is focused on extracting as much CBD oil as they can, but not many are optimizing the process. We even hear that data analytics is too difficult, that it does not help and no one has time for it. In contrast, the sports industry nowadays widely uses statistics and analytics, because it has proved to be effective. They use data analytics to choose their players for a team so that they have the best chance to win the championship. NBA teams have entire departments focused on data analytics, so why doesn’t the cannabis industry? Focusing on basketball, what if the approach taken to pick players for an all-star team was employed in the cannabis industry? Imagine your instruments as players and their parameters as their skills. Now, all you need is data analytics to help you decide how best to optimize your team. Paying attention to the numbers, could help you win in the cannabis industry.

extraction equipmentWhen thinking about players in basketball, one factor of interest is the “Players Offensive Rating”, which is the amount of points produced by a player per 100 possessions. In this scenario, you want the player to have a higher offensive rating as it means that they have a better chance of scoring points when they have the ball. Similarly, in cannabis production, you would want your instrument to yield as much product (points) per hour (possession) as possible as well. So, the cannabis extraction analogy for offensive rating is “Yield Per Hour”. By increasing the yield per hour, the instrument can extract more product in the same time frame, increasing overall output and reducing product cost per gram. In this scenario, the biggest extractor is not necessarily the fastest, and any supercritical COextractor will be slower than, for example, ethanol extractors.

Another important factor that’s considered in basketball is “Shooting Efficiency,” which looks at the number of successful baskets made by a player in comparison to the number of shots taken and where the shot was taken from. Having a player with a high shooting efficiency would result in a good chance for that team scoring points over their competitors. This principle is similar in cannabis, while a high yield (number of shots) is great, you also want a high purity (baskets made) of your target compounds or “Percent Purity”. This means you will get a higher percentage of the compounds you want, such as cannabinoids, for every gram of oil extracted. Here, the supercritical CO2 extractor shows its superiority over ethanol, as density modulation of the supercritical CO2 allows for the separation of terpenes or cannabinoids from the rest.You can see that a team that has a better synergy has a higher winning rate. For the same reason, the cannabis extraction process can be optimized by adjusting the parameters of the instrument. 

For one last example, let’s look at “Number of Steals” as well. This is the number of times a defensive player successfully tackles the ball from an opposing player before they manage to shoot a basket. If this is high, opponents have fewer opportunities to shoot and score points. Similarly, “Percent Recovery” in the cannabis industry is important to ensure that the target compounds in your flower are being extracted. The solvent should have the chance to extract the compounds (steal from the opposition), before the run ends (the opposition shoots). A high recovery gives a higher overall output for the materials that were input, generating more product overall. In theory, if you wait long enough every solvent can reach full recovery, but for supercritical CO2 in particular there is a practical ceiling around 80% recovery.

While thinking about these variables in isolation is the first step, it is just as important to see how the variables interplay with each other. A concept is introduced here called “synergy”. A team member must establish a good cooperation with the entire team according to their own characteristics. For example, taller and stronger players whose “Offensive Rating” is higher are more suitable for guards, while those with a high “Shooting Efficiency” are more suitable for forwards. You can see that a team that has a better synergy has a higher winning rate. For the same reason, the cannabis extraction process can be optimized by adjusting the parameters of the instrument. For example, if you increase the extraction speed, which is “Yield per Hour”, you may need to compromise on “Percent Purity” as the increased speed may not allow for the optimal extraction of target compounds. Similarly, you may also need to compromise on “Percent Recovery” as a slower extraction rate will do a better job at having a higher recovery. Thus, in order to improve the overall process of extracting oil, there needs to be a focus on analyzing the synergies between different factors to guarantee optimal parameters for your benefit.

These examples highlight some of the basic data analytics that can be conducted on your instruments. However, there’s still one challenge to consider, most professional NBA teams have entire departments just for data analytics. How can you possibly accomplish conducting these analytics for your entire cannabis LP in addition to your regular job roles? That’s where we come in. Other than the “Yield per Hour”, “Percent Purity” and “Percent Recovery” listed above, CBDV can perform customized data analysis based on your company’s data. Let our team help you integrate the “boring” and “half-baked” data, and present you with a visual and clear data analysis report. Let us help you lead your team to win that championship in cannabis!


Acknowledgements

  • David “Davey” Jones
  • Dr. Tara Zepel