Thursday, May 26, 2011

Soccer Marketing 101 - On Major League Soccer and Budweiser

On Monday, Budweiser and Major League Soccer announced they had renewed their partnership to sponsor the league, the Men's and Women's United States National Teams, and the Mexican National Team within the U.S.

Interestingly enough, both the league and Budweiser passed on the opportunity to talk about how the Free Beer Movement has been instrumental in growing both of their bottom lines. Oh well....
“Anheuser-Busch has a rich history in soccer, and we’re thrilled to continue our role as an ambassador of the sport through SUM’s top properties,” said Mark Wright, vice president of media, sports & entertainment marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc. “Not only do we have a chance to grow the sport nationally through our sponsorships of Major League Soccer and the Mexican National Team’s in the U.S., but Budweiser and Bud Light’s sponsorship of the U.S. national teams allows us to reach soccer fans on a truly global level.”
Close enough. If you parse those words... we're in there somewhere.

The larger point is, though, that the nation's largest brewery has renewed its interest in MLS.

It's no small fact that having this sort of partnership is crucial for the growth of American soccer. Budweiser has been an investor in MLS since the league's inception, a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup since 1986, and a supporter of the U.S. National Team since their return to the international stage in 1990.

Inflatable beer at a U.S. National Team game in San Diego.
Full disclosure: That's "Danny Beerseed" on the right.
For whatever your personal feelings of Budweiser and Bud Light you have to appreciate the continued faith the company has had in the league and the national team for nearly 30 years. In the early days of Major League Soccer,  Budweiser, along with Nike, were two national sponsors that stuck their necks out to help support the fledging league.*

As the league and the national teams continue to expand their sponsorship portfolios, massive companies like Budweiser provide a bell weather for other multi-national corporations weighing their investment in American soccer. Chivas USA can count Corona Extra as its jersey sponsor. In 2011, the league can count such companies as AT&T, AllState, American Airlines, Pepsi, Visa, Volkswagon, and many more as financial backers. Not to mention that MLS now has a tequila sponsor as well!

And even if this Bud isn't for you many MLS teams have found flexibility in securing local beers as club sponsors as well. Budweiser's initial investment not withstanding those local breweries probably wouldn't be there (with the macro-brewers feeling out the ground, making the risks, and thusly inviting the competition later on. Teams like Portland Timbers with Widmer Brothers, Seattle Sounders and Redhook Brewery**, and teams like the Philadelphia Union adding craft brewers, Yards Brewing Co. to their in stadium line up.

Craft beer enthusiasts might decry the new deal between Budweiser and MLS as a cynical ploy for the lowest common denominator fan (while clearly the move is continued push to go after the growing Hispanic population as well), but at a market share of 50.9% the brewer is American soccer and beer's elephant in the room and a necessary evil. America soccer fans with more discerning tastes will poo poo Bud's presence in our sport, but without them the league and the National Teams may not have survived in its earlier days.

American soccer and craft beer fans can only hope that the trail blazed by Budweiser, and now embraced by other breweries, will lead to more options in and outside the stadium for everyone.
"In every corner of the world, football fans share a passion for their favorite teams and players, and they enjoy watching the games with a cold beer." - Tony Ponturo, Vice President of Global Media and Sports Marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
Mr. Ponturo, in his quote, never specifies what kind of cold beer we should all share in. At the end of the day the Free Beer Movement isn't going to discriminate how anyone becomes a fan of American soccer through the power of free beer. Whether its from a Bud, a Miller Lite, a craft beer, or foreign brew... it's important to keep in mind that beer is the medium, but, ultimately, soccer is the message.

* Source of Budweiser's continued involvement in American soccer from the book, "Star Spangled Soccer" by Gary Hopkins.

** Ironically, Widmer and Redhook are both now owned by Budweiser's parent company, InBev. Neither craft brewer may not have ever had to pull or backing support to make their respective deals if not for being a part of a larger brewing conglomerate. Certainly the move was to put local brewers in the stadium and in prominent position over Budweiser given the Northwest's taste for craft beers.

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Lisa said...

I think you're quite right, it's no bad thing - and I have yet to visit an MLS stadium (except RFK, but does that even count?) that didn't offer good local crafts. We've had Victory from the start in Philly, it's great to have Yards aboard as well; there's Elysian and many others at Qwest Field and, as you point out, Portland's hardly going to have bad beer.

Anonymous said...

Small point: both Redhook and Widmer are owned by the Craft Brewers Alliance, of which InBev has a ~35% stake (I believe). InBev does distribute these brews though, so there is a significant relationship.

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