The state-run store is promoting Edgar's brand of mezcal, raising new questions about the Liquor Board's involvement in sales and marketing.
Retired Mariner Edgar Martinez, certified Seattle hero, has become a shill for mezcal, and his appearance Tuesday at a bottle-signing promotion raises numerous questions. Here's part of an admiring account on Seattlest.com:
Mezcal can only be certified if it comes from a few select states in Mexico, and the details of the distilling recipe are closely guarded secrets.
Enter Edgar. He is totally getting behind a new brand of mezcal called El Zacatecano. Produced in a little town called Huitzila, this brand has been made by the same family for nearly 100 years. Their Anejo just took the ‘Best in Category’ prize at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which is essentially the World Cup for booze, except that there are no draws, so in the end, you actually know which bottle is better. Intrigued? Us, too, as so often happens when someone talks about alcohol. We're even more excited by the fact that Edgar himself is going to be signing bottles of the stuff at the SoDo liquor store. . . . Right! A bottle of the trendy new booze signed by Gar? Muy bueno, say we!
So while drinking is basically always going to be the new drinking, there is a world out there of new and exotic liquors to tantalize the taste buds. And if that tantalization comes signed by a guy who hit over 300 home runs for the home team, all the better.
This promotion raises several questions.
First, the whole Martinez and Mezcal business. What's a sports celebrity doing promoting liquor in the first place? Oh, that's right, Edgar's retired. Not an active player, so he's exempt from the ban on associating athletes with booze. (Next up, perhaps: Junior and Johnny Walker?) Turns out Edgar has an investment company with a stake in the Zacatecano brand, and he intends to use some of the proceeds to benefit the town of Huitzila. Still, it's a private, for-profit business venture.
Second, the use of state facilities (in this case, a state liquor store) to promote a private business. We put the question to Brian Smith, WSLCB's public-relations director. His reply, in full:
We provide in-store merchandising of all brands including displays, signs, and other promotional materials. We do not promote one brand at the expense of another.
Bottle signings happen when the opportunity presents itself. As you know, you need celebrity or high-demand product to attract customers to attend. The last bottle signing was by Dan Aykroyd last year when he promoted his Crystal Head vodka. The LCB provided a venue for the signing and allowed the in-store promotion.
Absolutely. Edgar has many adult fans in Seattle who will want to purchase a signed bottle. He is not signing baseball memorabilia. The signing is not promoted outside of our stores. There is no paid advertising. As was the case with Dan Aykroyd, we are providing a venue for the responsible sale of this product.
We receive no fees or otherwise extra payments for this event. Revenue could be potentially generated by extra sales of that particular product. The signing is limited to two hours.
Yes, it is good retailing to offer a service that many of our customer will want such as events and promotions. The Liquor Control Board always seeks to be a modern retailer and serve our customers while ensuring responsible sales.
Except that there was outside promotion, in the form of a press release from a Bellevue firm, William Ryan LLC, that normally does real estate development but is involved in this venture through its William Ryan Select subsidiary. To quote the opening sentences of the release:
Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez will be making a special appearance at Liquor Store 101 in Sodo next Tuesday, June 22nd from 4-6pm to promote his latest business venture, a line of artisanal mezcal known as El Zacatecano. Edgar will be signing bottles of El Zacatecano for fans.
And the Liquor Board hopes that the taxes from incremental sales of Edgar-signed bottles (during a two-hour promotional event) will make the promotion worthwhile. Positive thinking from a "modern retailer," that. And understandable: The Liquor Board sold 1,400 bottles of Crystal Head vodka in the course of Dan Aykroyd's two appearances.
The Liquor Board walks a tight line even in the best of times, between "serving the public" and "responsible sales," between "regulating sales" and "generating tax revenues," between the advocates of free enterprise (who want the state out of the liquor business) and advocates of temperance (who see Satan in the liquor aisles of California supermarkets).
Costco has just wrapped up a signature campaign to put Initiative 1100 on the ballot in November, so every action by the Liquor Board is under scrutiny. A highly visible spirits promotion by a popular sports figure on public premises isn't going to help the Board's professed neutrality.
But it turns out that Edgar's two-hour promotional appearance at the SoDo store was the Liquor Board's idea, suggested when William Ryan presented the new product line to the Board. ("Would Edgar be open to a bottle-signing?") Tuesday night's expected sales: 600 bottles at over $50 apiece, or $30,000 in windfall revenue for state coffers — a good business deal for an agency that's fighting for its life.