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By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
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Still, pong continues to thrive, leaving other drinking games in its frothy wake.
"Regardless of what you do, college kids are always going to be drinking," sums up Atish Doshi, president of University of Illinois publication The Booze News. "But pong is better than just sitting around drinking, because it combines things that everyone likes doing drinking and competing."
Philadelphians Matt Brady and Tom Schmidt derive their livelihoods entirely from beer pong. In fact, the 28-year-old former Penn State buddies are pitching a beer-pong show to Spike TV. And if that doesn't work out, they'll try the Game Show Network.
"There's always a percentage of people who have competitiveness in them and want to be involved in a competition even at a party," Brady says of the game's allure. "Could be animal instinct, for all I know."
The enterprising Brady and Schmidt are presently at work selling eight-foot-long beer-pong tables, which are made from aluminum and wood. Founded in 2004, their company, Bing Bong Inc., has sold nearly 2,000 tables at $150 each.
"We sell a lot in Florida, because people do it for spring break, and it's starting to boom in California," notes Brady. "A lot of the Midwest hadn't even really heard of the game a year or two ago, but we've noticed a ton of orders coming in from St. Louis, and even from Alabama and the deep South."
Brady's biggest competition are homemade tables and closet doors. "But you can't bring a closet door to a tailgate or a concert, or down the street to your friend's house."
Bing Bong sponsored a tournament in Philly last October, hosted by Real World: Las Vegas' Trishelle Cantonella and Road Rules' Mark Long. More than a thousand spectators turned out for the two-night event, which featured sixty teams and cash prizes.
Covering the tournament for the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman described an Anheuser-Busch promotion called "Bud Pong," a game similar to beer pong except (wink, wink) it was played with water. The company provided cups, tables and balls to bars in dozens of markets.
Gettleman's story, though, raised doubts that anyone was actually playing with water, and A-B quickly scuttled the promotion.
"Despite our explicit guidelines, there may have been instances where this promotion was not carried out in the manner it was intended," Francine I. Katz, the company's vice president for communications and consumer affairs, told the Times.
Meanwhile, a Coors affiliate in Las Vegas provided banners, cups and beer-dispensing equipment for the recent World Series of Beer Pong. In a pre-series interview, sales manager Bob Sabbe spoke of the demographic goldmine. "The [participants] are prime beer-drinking age, 21 to 35. Every cup is going to be filled with Coors or Coors Light."
Asked if the game might foster dangerous consumption, Sabbe replied, "They're only putting two ounces of beer in a cup. So if a guy played the game and only drank the beer in the cups, he technically wouldn't even be drunk."
But by the World Series' second day, Coors' corporate office caught wind of the promotion and pulled the plug.
"[Sabbe] used our logo against our industry and company guidelines," says Kabira Hatland, spokeswoman for Coors Brewing. "Beer-pong promotions are a violation of Coors' marketing policy. We discourage beer-pong promotions because the game is generally associated with overconsumption."
Pabst Blue Ribbon also disassociates itself with beer pong. Although they donated hats, shirts and banners for Pat's event, the company's Riverfront Timesad was oddly vague, saying, "Come on down [to Pat's] on Sunday for bar games and prizes." Pabst officials did not return requests for comment for this story.
Matt Brady, who hoped to collaborate with a major beer company for cooperative advertising and promotional purposes, says the Bud Pong debacle ruined everything.
"We'd gotten interest from Miller, Coors and every other company that's out there just because it's become such a popular game," he says. "We made proposals and discussed it, but everything pretty much came to a halt when Anheuser canceled [Bud Pong]."
Brady insists beer pong is a gentleman's game and need not become a drunken orgy.
"The best way to run a tournament is to just play one game per team per week," he says. "Have it be like football you don't play four football games on the same day."
Says World Series of Beer Pong co-founder Billy Gaines: "We're trying to take it out of the undergrad houses and put in regulations to encourage the sport's positive aspects: the competition, the camaraderie and the interaction."
Andrew "Roo" Yawitz honed his beer-pong skills at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. Yawitz, a local investment banker and Ladue High School grad, describes his left-leaning college alma mater sometimes known as "Wesbian" as a "3,000-person, liberal-arts, anti-Greek, anti-sport, anti-everything school."
Beer pong's popularity accelerated dramatically during Yawitz's academic tenure, which he completed in 2001 with a degree in political science. "When you play 'Asshole,' or these idiots that flip the cup, no one's really into winning those games. If you sit around playing quarters, you're not going to have 30 people watching. But Beirut is a reasonable spectator sport if you ham it up a bit."