Accelerated news cycles notwithstanding, this time of year there is really only one thing on every football fan’s mind: Super Bowl LII. And with it comes the annual question: What will I serve, drink, or crush in celebration at my Super Bowl party?
The answer for many football fans may surprise you. It’s wine. NFL stadiums may have once been home to chest-painting, beer-guzzling devotees, but, among them, wine drinking is on the rise.
Beer sales rose by $40 million the week before the Super Bowl in 2016, according to Nielsen; meanwhile, wine and spirits were up a not-too-shabby $20 million. Recent data from Mintel, a London-based market research firm, says 31 percent of football fans prefer wine to beer or hard liquor.
One rather simplistic take might be to consider fans’ genders. There are more female football fans than ever — 45 percent of NFL fans are women, according to Reuters — and more women could mean more gridiron-adjacent wine. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 50 percent of women choose wine as their favorite alcoholic beverage. But, as we know, correlation does not always imply causation. Let’s explore.
Among fans both male and female, 63 percent prefer to have an alcoholic beverage during a game, Mintel reports. (The real question is, who is this 37 percent of fans not enjoying a boozy beverage while cheering on their team?) Despite the stereotype that men are from planet beer and women from planet wine, beer sales overall declined by 3 percent from 2014 to 2015. At the start of 2017, beer drinking was down another 1.7 percent.
Personally, I come from a universe where my mom prefers a nice cold Bud or Leinenkugle Shandy, and my dad drinks White Zin (on ice!) when we watch football at home. Gendered drinks stereotypes are both old-fashioned and inaccurate.
The root of the vine is this: The largest consumers of wine in the country are millennials. Male and female millennials consume nearly 50 percent of wine in the U.S., preferring it to beer and spirits.
Graeme Hayden, head of business development for the SRP restaurant group in NYC, says he’s seen the sales of wine at Jasper’s, a bustling sports bar in Midtown Manhattan, increase. Jasper’s broadcasts all the games on Sunday (with sound) and gets busier the deeper we get into the NFL season, Hayden says.
“Beer still accounts for 60 percent of sales,” he says. “And hard liquor is 25 percent. So, our wine is at about 10 percent — but when you think about it, that’s still really high. We carry 10 varieties of wine on our menu, compared to 20-plus beers, and 100-plus different types of liquor. For wine sales to be that high is pretty incredible.”
Jasper’s caters to a professional millennial crowd, and on Fridays during happy hour, Hayden says, he sells as much in one day as he does all week, thanks to the influx of young professionals imbibing $6 house wine specials. The same is true for the Sunday football crowd.
“This past Sunday was our busiest in months,” he explains. “Everyone is out now that it’s getting into the playoffs. People want to watch their teams. I went through 10 cases of sparkling wine. We do a special on Sundays for football during brunch, we do a beverage choice along with food of two different types of Mimosas or a Bloody Mary, and the Mimosas always outsell the Bloody Mary.”
Jasper’s isn’t the only place catering to millennials’ wine preferences. The NFL is right there on the vino train. Most NFL stadiums carry at least one wine option to counter the variety of beer available for purchase.
And many NFL players have taken time to explore the fruits of the vine. Greats like Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe, Dick Vermeil, Mike Ditka, and Joe Montana all joined the wine industry in retirement and now produce their own labels. In 2015, the Minnesota Vikings’ Terence Newman, then the NFL’s oldest cornerback at 37, credited his longevity to red wine. His fellow defensive backs immediately bought bottles of their own. (Newman’s rec? Meiomi Pinot Noir.)
I was curious about the relationship among the NFL, age, gender, and drinks preferences in my own life, so I conducted an informal survey of coworkers on a recent television shoot. On our crew of 16, the breakdown was as follows: two women, both football fans; and 14 men, comprised of eight avid fans, two casual fans, and four uninterested in football. Twelve of us were millennials, and four Gen Xers. The millennial NFL fans were pretty evenly split between beer and wine, with just one more millennial man on team beer. All the Gen Xer men preferred beer or spirits.
Our standings were pretty spot on with the national data. As with all trends, there isn’t one cause — women! millennials! millennial women! — so much as a combination. People can’t be reduced to stereotypes, whether they’re sipping Mimosas in Midtown Manhattan, or painting their chests in a 15-degree outdoor stadium. Upsets are part of what makes the game so interesting.