Even if Duff, Homer’s favorite brew, won’t be available, Fox Broadcasting Co. has partnered with five fall beer festivals to promote the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons prime time animated comedy.

The network has secured presenting status of four festivals on behalf of the iconic TV program, and will cosponsor the fifth.

The Simpsons: 20 Years campaign will present Atlanta’s Hotoberfest, Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati USA, Denver’s Great American Beer Festival and Oktoberfest on the Minneapolis Riverfront. The fifth event is Seattle’s Fremont Oktoberfest microbrew festival.

“This was a no brainer,” said Eric Casella, Fox’s manager of affiliate marketing.

“Sometimes you look at sponsors and think it’s a stretch. No one will say, ‘Why are The Simpsons at a beer festival?’ ”

The sponsorships are one component of a yearlong marketing program that culminates with the anniversary of the show’s debut on Jan. 14, 1990. The campaign also includes TV spots on Fox affiliates, radio ads and user-generated videos and other promotions on TheSimpsons.com.

“Everything is about putting out the word on the 20th anniversary, and that will accelerate all year long,” Casella said.

“It’s a milestone we couldn’t pass up,” he added, noting The Simpsons is the longest-running scripted comedy prime time TV program ever and will soon pass Gunsmoke as the longest-running non-news prime time show.

In addition to celebrating Homer’s affinity for suds, Fox chose the late September/early October festivals for their ability to generate a buzz around the show’s season premier September 27.

When considering properties to sponsor, Casella looked for major market fall events that attract young adults. “It’s hard to find younger viewers; these events definitely cater to them.”

Fox homed in on events in markets where local affiliates were willing to support the sponsorships. “That was very important,” Casella said. “If they’re not excited about a sponsorship, it doesn’t make sense for us to do it.”

Fox also looked for sponsorship packages that included media exposure. “Not only are we looking to reach people at the events, but we see value in gaining exposure in event promotion,” Casella said. “We want to reach people beyond attendees.”

Casella, who started his event research on Google, noted that at least one traditional Oktoberfest he contacted was not interested in partnering with The Simpsons, even though the show is aimed at adults, not children. “They felt it didn’t make sense for them to be tied in with a cartoon.”

Fox is not providing in-kind advertising as part of its sponsorship fees, Casella said, noting such local inventory is the domain of the affiliates, not the network.

Although Fox owns its stations in Atlanta and Minneapolis, affiliates in the other markets are independently owned. “We’re not in a position to negotiate on their behalf,” he said.

The Simpsons will have a different presence at each event. At the Fremont Oktoberfest, the show will sponsor the event’s main entertainment stage.

To support the sponsorship, the event worked with media sponsor CityDog magazine to tweak on-site tryouts for the CityDog Cover Dog Model Search. The Fremont Oktoberfest stop of the search will choose a winning dog based on its similarity to Santa’s Little Helper–the name of the Simpsons’ dog, said Phil Megenhardt, sponsorship director with Bold Hat Productions, which owns and produces the event.

In addition, KCPQ-TV, the Seattle Fox affiliate, will promote the dog competition and will bring TV personalities to the festival for live remotes.

Fox also will distribute 15,000 souvenir beer mugs with the show’s 20th anniversary logo at the festival, as well as branded beer openers.

At Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, a Homer Simpson character will lead the event’s annual World’s Largest Chicken Dance.