Thursday, April 06, 2006

New York Red Bulls -- using claims of performance enhancement to market stimulant beverage to athletes and fans

Beverage sellers often use implied claims of performance - enhancing powers to market stimulants to athletes and sports fans.

For example, the makers of the stimulant beverage Red Bull recently purchased the major league soccer team for New York and New Jersey, formerly called the MetroStars, and renamed the team the New York Red Bulls.

See the Google Answers service for an interesting report on health questions that were raised following the death of an Irish athlete who had consumed three cans of Red Bull and 3 similar deaths in Sweden. A Food Safety Protection Board in the United Kingdom recommended (bold added):
a) stimulant drinks should be labelled with an indication that they are unsuitable for children (under 16 years of age), pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine

b) they should be classified with other beverages of high caffeine content

c) the consumption of stimulant drinks by children under 16 years should be discouraged

d) caution should be exercised in the consumption of stimulant drinks with alcohol

e) they should not be consumed in association with sport and exercise as a thirst quencher

f) they are unsuitable rehydration agents for use in sport and during exercise
When stimulant beverage makers use implied claims about athletic performance, the key adjective is usually "implied." More explicit claims would raise a number of legal and public relations hazards: in addition to liability concerns if somebody dies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might inquire whether the product should be regulated as a drug, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) might ask if the advertising messages are false and misleading, and the marketing partners in the sports world might decide the performance enhancing claims just stink.

But somebody at Red Bull didn't get the memo.

Jack from Fork & Bottle sent us an interesting report by email. He read the following question and answer in the print version of the New York Times, from an interview with Dietrich Mateschitz, founder of Red Bull (bold added).
Q. Is Red Bull, which has high sugar and caffeine content, appropriate for athletes?

A. If people would spend some time looking at our numerous clinical studies, research and test results, they would probably have to change their mind. Red Bull is unquestionably appropriate for athletes due to the benefits it provides, like increased concentration, improved performance and reaction speed.
Jack reports that this question and answer are now missing from the "version" of the same article that appears in New York Times online. He has written the "newspaper of record" to ask the reason for this deletion from the record. We will let you know if he hears back.

[Update 4/7/2006: Jack heard back from the office of the public editor: "Thanks for writing. The New York Edition of the paper did not have those paragraphs, and that is generally the version that makes it onto the Web site. There was less space provided for the story in the New York Edition than in the National Edition, so the change seems to have merely been the result of some minor trimming by editors." It is suprising that they would "trim" the most interesting paragraph of the interview -- space certainly must have been tight that day.]