When I'm planning an Oxford Geek Night, there's often a pressure to get drinks sponsorship: from the venue, from attendees and even from speakers. The first serious long-term drinks sponsors ended up so popular, that many events after they'd stopped sponsoring us, people were still asking me if they were going to provide a bar tab at the next one.
But a regular OGN attendee recently pulled me up on a brief burst of "BEER!" rhetoric by suggesting that, especially for someone teetotal, stressing free alcohol all the time could be alienating. He wasn't asking for a dry venue; he was just pointing out that, if you don't drink alcohol, then an event which stresses free drink (essentially alcoholic, given the venue is a pub, and the tab is at the upstairs bar where they don't do e.g. coffee) might just seem weird, and not something that was meant for you to attend.
There's a long, ranty but in many ways quite reasonable article about how free alcohol is bending the industry's social events out of shape. Certainly when you assemble all of the free-beer boasting in one place, it starts to look like web event marketing is run by someone with a serious problem.
It's fair to say in response, of course, that the culture of drinking in the UK is more accepted and indulged in to larger amounts, than in the USA; Europeans simply do drink more. And that part of the psychological damage of heavy drinking arises from social ostracization, in the same way as the tendency to drink in the first place comes from social acceptance. Moreover, while one should always listen to minority groups, because their more vocal members help to show when something more important is going wrong, then at the same time I've had more comments that any sponsorship is corporatizing the event, than I've had comments that we're stressing the drinking angle too much. Is that - thin end of the wedge aside - a reason to turn down all sponsorship?
I certainly don't want the image of OGNs to go from "Friend of Oxford Geeks" to "Fun Bobby". But my personal feeling - admittedly, as someone who does drink alcohol, at least occasionally - is that, as long as we stress the "sponsorship" in "drinks sponsorship", and avoid simply bellowing "BEER," then we at least tone down the alcoholic nature of it.
But I wonder what other people think. Leave a comment, or contact me on Twitter, if you've an opinion.
(By the way: we haven't had such sponsorship in ages, which arguably makes my worries moot. And do you know what? Every OGN is a dry OGN for me: having to ferry equipment around means I can never conscience having an alcoholic drink. It's not a lifestyle choice, though, which I imagine makes a difference.)