Budweiser’s dry World Cup saga

Budweiser employed smart marketing moves to stay relevant at an alcohol-free World Cup.

Maybe the most shocking result at this year’s World Cup — aside from Saudi Arabia over Argentina — was Qatar declaring its stadiums alcohol-free on the eve of the tournament.

In addition to reminding soccer fans of the dictatorial impulses of Qatar’s authoritarian government, the decision put Budweiser in a bind. As The New York Times explained, the exclusive beer sponsor of the World Cup stayed relevant despite not selling a single alcoholic beer at a soccer game.

Things were awkward at first…

… in part because Budweiser tweeted — and quickly deleted — “Well, this is awkward” after Qatar made its decision to ban beer.

Then, the brand recovered:

  • Budweiser announced the winning country would be awarded the thousands and thousands of beers it could no longer sell.
  • It stocked concession stands with Bud Zero, an alcohol-free brew.
  • It blasted ads throughout the stadiums.

But, at best, this tournament is a draw for Budweiser

It paid FIFA ~$75m for the exclusive rights to supply beer in Qatar, according to Front Office Sports. Plus:

  • An industry source told the Times that Budweiser likely spent another $5m in the run-up to the World Cup — on brewing, refrigeration, transportation, etc. That’s money it can’t get back.

Budweiser’s best chance for a victory will come during negotiations for the next World Cup in 2026. Because of the debacle in Qatar, the company may seek a $47m discount from FIFA on its $112m contract.

BTW: Not everyone stayed sober in the stadiums. An American used fake bottles of suntan lotion as flasks.

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